Quiet Angel brings music and more to Rehab residents

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By Donna Mitchell

Some people know how to light a place up, and Gloria Perry is one of them.
“I think of her as our Quiet Angel,” says Roselyn Brecher, administrator of Williston Rehabilitation & Nursing Center.  “I go out one day, and when I come back the next, the dining room tables have beautiful new centerpieces!”
In the summer the centerpieces were brightly colored flowers Gloria helped WRNC residents create from tissue paper.  Fourth of July exploded with shining stars and stripes. For Halloween, lollipops and candy were festooned with sparkly orange, black and gold cutouts of witches, goblins, black cats and pumpkins.  Now for Thanksgiving, little turkeys fan their tails, and on each feather a resident has written something he or she is thankful for.
It should be added that the Quiet Angel isn’t always so quiet.  A professional musician for all her life, Gloria plays the piano at the nursing center at lunchtime at least once a week.  Her music is another gift to residents, and her repertoire includes standards from the ‘30s,‘40s and ‘50s as well as songs from popular musicals and favorites of the season.
“She plays the music we grew up with,” says Resident Council President Helen Meeks.  “And she always wraps up with God Bless America.”  
“She does an excellent job,” adds resident Doug Wagner.  “It’s very nice that she’s helping us out.”  
Helen Meeks agrees, calling Gloria “a devoted good Samaritan” who “brings a lot of cheering with her.”
Myrt Kruger thinks Gloria is “a charming lady, very nice,” and Edythe Clements says Gloria “made me feel so welcome, part of the group.”  (Both women participated in making the recent Thanksgiving centerpieces.)
Activities Director Penny Moore says Gloria is “a blessing to us” and Receptionist Jo Akins calls her “just plain wonderful.”
Gloria herself says, “I do it for the residents, I’m not in it for profit or praise, just anything I can do to lift their spirits, get them to hum a tune. It’s fulfillment, sharing something that comes from the heart.”  
Later it comes out that her parents, too, were civic-minded.  “I was brought up in that culture where you DO care for others.”  Gloria then goes on to credit other family experiences from her childhood for the gifts she has to offer today.  
She remembers that as a child, every time she stayed with her grandmother, her grandmother introduced her to a new craft, be it macramé, a button collage, knitting or crochet.  “She always had something she’d get me started on!” Gloria also had an artistic aunt, and Gloria witnessed how when the aunt went into a nursing home, she continued working on craft projects.
The spirit of caring for others not only comes from Gloria’s fore-bearers, it extends to her children and grandchildren.  Both her son and daughter-in-law and two of her grand-daughters work at WRNC.  
In the two and a half years she’s been bring crafts projects to the residents at the nursing center, Gloria says she’s learned not only what kinds of projects residents are best able to do, but also she’s had the fun of being surprised.  When the crafts group made the tissue paper flowers, the creators were instructed to choose any 6 colors of paper they wanted.  “There were some amazing choices, ones I’d never have thought of, and they came out great!” says Gloria.  That’s exactly the kind of surprise an artist loves.
One other thing Gloria has learned about designing centerpieces:  if you use candy, even if you glue it in place, it doesn’t last long!
Gloria’s hours at Williston Rehab playing the piano and working on crafts represent only part of her actual volunteer hours.  Once she has devised a design for a new centerpiece, she has to round up materials (cleverly recycling whenever possible) and then she has to fabricate the parts of the project that are too difficult for people whose use of their hands is limited.  She laughs as she notes that this month, she was making lots of little top hats for turkeys.
Gloria also has her own projects, including a series of 20 x 20 inch mosaic stepping stones that each celebrate a different special event.  For these, she needs “anything ceramic I can get my hands on, even glass.”
Gloria would be delighted if she could find a helper or two to assist with either advance preparation for craft projects or in the crafts sessions themselves.  If you could lend a hand, you can contact her directly on her home phone (529 – 9174) or contact WRNC Activities Director Penny Moore at 528 –3561.  Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center is located at 300 NW 1st Avenue behind Hardee’s.
Gloria Perry was photographed by Donna Mitchell, who also interviewed her and wrote this article.  Donna is the Community Liaison for Williston Rehabilitation and Nursing Center as well as Parklands Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Gainesville.  She is co-chair of Alachua County’s Community Coalition for Older Adults and also serves on the board of Friends Across the Ages (AcrossTheAges.org), a Gainesville organization whose volunteers make friends with people living in nursing homes.