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Barbara Gordon: If you want to be happy, you can

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By The Staff

Barbara Gordon is a woman who knows all about starting over from scratch. In her early 30s when her marriage of 17 years ended, she scraped together $150 to buy an old station wagon, packed up her four children, and left Indiana for North Miami Beach. There the woman who had never before worked outside her home became a merchandiser for Woolworth’s and later K-Mart, while she finished bringing up her children.

That was three decades ago, and Barbara’s face keeps breaking into a smile as she talks about that time in her life. She smiles when she talks about what her children are doing now and the four different towns where they live today. And she smiles when she talks about her last six years living at Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. Barbara is one of those rare and magical people who both knows and lives the secret of happiness.

Someone observing Barbara might think that her secret is staying busy, because she certainly does stay busy. She says staying busy keeps a person young and motivated, and she’s made it a habit to get out of bed right away in the morning “before the bed grows to me. I tell people, it’s easy for that to happen, the bed growing to you.” She uses her specially designed scooter to buzz around Williston on errands for fellow residents as well as for staff and anyone else who could use her help. Stuck in the shop and need someone to pick up your lunch for you? Ask Barbara, she can do it.

When she’s not out on her scooter, Barbara is occupied with one of her many activities at Williston Rehab. Some of her pursuits are playful, like Pokeo, Bingo and Fun Fitness, but she’s also committed to activities that are useful to others. She welcomes newcomers to the home and, since many who come in get better and return to their own homes, it’s a steady job for her. Meanwhile, she’s an active part of a circle of long-time friends who, like her, consider the Rehab Center home.

Barbara also occupies a formal role as president of the Resident Council. In that office, she conducts monthly meetings which are open only to residents, their invited guests, and the activity director. The Resident Council is taken seriously by residents, the home’s administration and state surveyors (who review the meeting minutes.) At council meetings, Barbara encourages residents to speak up, whether with compliments or complaints, and the results are passed on to the appropriate nursing home departments for any needed action. When Barbara talks about her council work, you can see that while this friendly smiling woman remains ever ready to look on the bright side, she would never for a moment be afraid to speak her truth or, perhaps more significantly, listen to yours.

However much staying busy and serving others are part of the happiness Barbara radiates, the smile that lights up her face has a deeper source than the ability to keep herself distracted. You see that she is truly engaged in all the life around her. When she describes coming to the nursing home six years ago, she says, “I was very sick when I was first here and I just stayed in my room.” She talks about how some of the features of her illness made her self-conscious, then goes on to say, “after a couple of months, I began participating in the life here and getting to know people. I found that if you want to be happy here, you can make it a good life. That’s the way it works. Life is what you make it. Join in. Make yourself at home. It will work out beautifully.” And she never stops smiling the whole time she’s talking.

Freshly 70, it is now more than half her life ago that Barbara left a long-familiar home to move more than a thousand miles away to start a new life in a new place. Then half a dozen years ago, she was called on to make the enormous leap of redefining her whole notion of home, and once again Barbara Gordon has succeeded.

“This is a good place to be!” she says. She means it, too. You see it once again, that magical fountain of joy that comes from deep inside and bubbles out of her every time she speaks. What a treat and revelation to be around her!

Barbara enjoys visitors, so if you are looking for good company or downright inspiration, it’s as close as your neighborhood nursing home. Because Barbara is busy, you’ll need to call ahead and arrange a date through the Activities Director, Penny Moore, who can be reached by calling Williston Rehab at 528 3561. Donna is the Community Liaison for Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center as well as Parklands Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Gainesville; she also serves on the board of Friends Across the Ages, a Gainesville organization whose volunteers make friends with people living in nursing homes.