- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It doesn’t happen overnight, but the staff of the St. Mary’s Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Leonardtown undertake a near-magical holiday transformation each December of the residential care facility, with the assistance and admiration of clients who call the place home.
“That makes it all worthwhile, if it brings a smile to one of their faces,” Mike Lacey, the nursing center’s maintenance director, said as he walked through the courtyard adorned with decorations large and small, including household necessities from long ago like an outdoor hand pump and wood-cart wheelbarrow. “A lot of them remember when they used to haul wood to the house,” Lacey said. “A lot of different things bring back memories to them.”
Lacey’s been putting up the holiday decorations for more than three decades, beginning when Virginia Thomas was the administrator of the county’s former nursing home and he was in a county government youth program.
“Thirty-two years later,” he said, “I’m still putting them up. We add something new every year.”
New residents arrive each year at the nursing center, and some past clients return, including 98-year-old Frances Faye Clese, a Sandgates resident who moved back to the facility 10 months ago. She prays each morning at a first-floor window overlooking the courtyard, and recently toured the winter wonderland she has watched emerge along its paths.
“Isn’t this the most beautiful thing you can see with your eyes?” she asked. “It’s so real.”
Born in the Little Italy area of Brooklyn, N.Y., Clese remembers Christmas during the 1930s, when the Great Depression necessitated modest holiday decorating. “Nothing like this, just a Christmas tree out in the yard. That was about it,” she said. “This is a godsend for me.”
Clese said living at the nursing center has afforded her new experiences, including the first trip in her lifetime to an enclosed shopping mall, through a recent bus trip to the one in Charles County. “The people [here] are so gentle with you,” she said. “It makes you feel good.”
Kim Simpkins, the nursing center’s activities director, said the interior decorations include an old-time aluminum Christmas tree, which prompted the display of a historical timeline on artificial trees, and her search through the eBay online auction website for a 1950s color wheel that reflects its beams off the tree’s pompon branches. A far larger indoor display of trees, including a bridge over a make-believe river, fills the back wall of an activity room where residents gather to enjoy the setting.
“Anything we can include them in, we try to do,” Simpkins said. “They tell us it’s not Christmas without the colored lights. We could just put up one tree like everybody else, but it wouldn’t be the same.”
Helen Connelly Cummings, a St. Mary’s native who lived most of her life in east Baltimore and moved to the nursing center last year, said she most liked a tree in the display with blue lights.
“They did a lot of work, making it beautiful for all of us,” Cummings said.
Dec. 25 is an extra special day for Cummings. She’ll turn 81 that day, at 5 a.m.