Delores | Celebrating 95 Years
Delores, who was born in 1929, opens presents during a party for her 95th birthday.
Cousin Kathy Blessing pokes at a cluster of balloons held on a string by Delores. Delores’ sister Mardell Rhodes, at left, watches while enjoying the birthday party.
Ardean Ebert, left, and Mardell Rhodes, right, pose for photos with their big sister Delores as she clowns with a paper crown on a stick.
Dawn takes a photo of Hanna House supervisor Katie LaRue hugging Delores. Dawn is one of “the kids,” as Delores calls the women who live at Hanna House with her.
Delores gets a birthday hug from Ryan, whose girlfriend is one of her housemates.

Celebrating 95 Years

It seems no one was more excited about Delores’ birthday party than Dawn, one of the seven women Delores lives with in Hanna House in Columbia City.

Dawn, who has introduced Delores as “my wonderful roommate,” circulated at the Creative Learning Center (CLC) at Easterseals Passages the day before the party, making sure everyone knew they were invited to attend on Saturday, March 23. She also enlisted volunteers to help her decorate the CLC Saturday morning.

At 1 p.m., the official start of the party, Dawn fretted. Only a few staff and some of her housemates were there.

“Look at this! This isn’t a party!” Dawn complained to Hanna House Supervisor Katie LaRue.

“No matter how many people are here, we’ll have a great time,” LaRue said.

After all, this was certainly a birthday to celebrate. Delores was now 95, the oldest person currently served by the Easterseals Arc network.
Delores ranged from happy to almost giddy throughout the party. She kept watch in a guest-of-honor spotlight with a clear view of the building’s main door. The minute anyone stepped in the door, she’d call out, “Come on in!”

Soon more of her housemates, some with their boyfriends, showed up. Friends who attend the CLC on weekdays with Delores also showed up to join the party. More staff members who have worked with Delores stopped in, too.

First one of her sisters, then the other, showed up to celebrate. Then came cousin after cousin.

“I think she is really happy there,” her sister Ardean Ebert said, referring to Hanna House. “She talks about ‘the kids’ all the time.”

“The kids,” ages 23 to 68, are the women who live with her at Hanna House. The age gap doesn’t stop them from loving her. Some of them call her “Mom.”

Her warm and jovial disposition makes her popular among most people she encounters.

“She’s just so kind,” said LaRue, the house supervisor. “She’s a joy to be around!”

“She’s got the joy of the Lord, doesn’t she?” observed a cousin, Kathy Blessing.

“Our father would be so surprised to see her now,” Ebert said.

Farm and Family

When Delores was a little girl during the Great Depression, people with disabilities didn’t have the help they do now. Ebert recalls that her parents enrolled Delores in school, but she was picked on by other kids there. Before long, they kept her at home.

The routine on the farm filled her days. Family, extended family and neighbors made a close, comforting network around her. She particularly loved the animals. She enjoyed seeing the new calves, the cattle, the pigs, the sheep, the dogs…

“And the barn cats. She loved her kitties,” said a niece, Denise Geiger.

She gets to indulge that fondness for animals at the Hanna House, where the residents have a cat named Beans.

“If it had four legs, she liked it,” said her other sister Mardell Rhodes.

She helped her father on the farm, shucking corn and hoeing the garden, Rhodes said. Delores continued living with her father after her mother died in 1980. She stayed there, continuing to help as she could, until her father died in 1991.

She lived with Rhodes for eight years after her father’s death, but when a spot opened in Hanna House, she moved in. Now, more than 20 years later, Hanna House remains a warm haven for her, made all the warmer by her affection for her housemates.

Thriving with Easterseals

Rhodes marveled at how well Delores gets around; she uses a walker, but still enjoys outings. She’s grateful, too, for her sister’s continued good cheer.

“That’s all Easterseals,” she said.

“She likes to go to the Learning Center to do the crafts and things. She likes to paint pictures,” Ebert said. “She has at times gone to the humane shelter; she always talks about petting the kittens.”

“She likes to interact with people and to see what other (people) are doing,” Ebert said.

Another favorite pastime is shopping. LaRue said Delores recently learned how to operate the motorized shopping carts at Walmart. She also enjoys going out to eat with her housemates and working on puzzles during visits to the library, LaRue said.

As the sisters reflected on Delores’ life, about 20 people from Hanna House and the CLC played some of their favorite music, danced and enjoyed pizza, snacks and cupcakes. Ten or so relatives caught up with each other and celebrated with Delores. Meanwhile, the guest of honor dug into a decadent double dose of chocolate: a bowl of ice cream and her own, personal cake.