WINTER GARDEN As Judy Skilton — the director of recreation therapy and volunteer services at Health Central Park in Winter Garden — puts it, there are days when the staff would be lost if it weren’t for a resident spending a little time with them.
It just so happens that, for her, one of those residents is 90-year-old Wanda McColley. But Skilton gets to spend more than “a little time” with McColley. Since McColley moved into HCP in January 2013, she has completed more than 3,150 hours of volunteer service.
“She came in and said, ‘You need to keep me busy or I’m going to go nuts,’ so I said, ‘OK,’” Skilton said, chuckling.
McColley grew up in New York, where she married her husband in 1952. They had three children, and she worked for the government until 1974, when she started working at a U.S. Air Force base commissary in Niagara Falls, New York.
Her husband, who served with the Air Force, ended up going overseas as she stayed in New York, and it was then that she worked as a cashier in a grocery store.
One day, shortly after they had returned from an extended trip, her husband came home and asked if she wanted to go to Florida.
“We had just come back from a 20-day trip, and I said I didn’t know if I had enough time,” McColley said, referring to asking her boss for more time off. “He said ‘No, I meant to stay.’”
They had built a new house not long before, but even so, they made the move to Orlando.
McColley’s daughter, Vicki Brown, lives in the West Orange area and wanted her mother to be somewhere closer to her. Once they found HCP, it immediately became home.
“As a family member, I would (recommend) and have recommended this place to everyone,” Brown said of HCP.
“It just seems like I’ve been here all my life,” McColley added.
Today, McColley also has eight grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, with another on the way.
“She’s one of the most family-oriented people you’ll ever want to meet,” Brown said. “She can’t remember birthdays but out of the blue will remember things I forget. Her best friends are her grandchildren.”
When McColley moved in to HCP, she knew she was going to go stir-crazy if she wasn’t able to get involved in daily activities. Skilton asked if she would be interested in volunteering.
“It all came in so fast,” McColley said. “I started working with donations, checking them in and keeping track of every itty bitty thing that came in. Then I started in decorations for the dining-room tables. When flowers came in, I helped put them in vases.”
Skilton said she’s done hundreds of inventories, counting and managing descriptions for every donated item that comes through HCP, even if it’s just piles of clothes and books. Two months ago, she started on Christmas decorations for this year — red birds, pinecones and white roses among them.
She works on creating and repurposing centerpieces for the dining room and is Queen Mother for the Park Red Hat Angels, which is HCP’s Red Hat Society — an international social organization originally founded for women ages 50 and older.
Throughout her life, she also has been part of The Daughters of Rebekah — an international service-oriented organization and a branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows — and Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, among other organizations.
“We’ve all been raised in community work,” Brown said. “She’s always done the volunteering, raising money for charities and different things. It helps keep her active, alert and more happy than anything.”
It was for these reasons that, back in June, Skilton nominated McColley for the Florida Health Care Activity Coordinators Association’s Resident Volunteer of the Year Award. Four people in Florida were nominated, and McColley was the recipient.
The staff at HCP decided to surprise her with the honor at their own award ceremony. It’s hard to surprise her, they said, but they managed to pull it off.
“There were too many people around, and I couldn’t cry,” McColley joked.
Ed Dobski, activities and recreational therapy coordinator at HCP, couldn’t choose just one word to describe McColley: friendly, outgoing, forthright, honest, trustworthy, dedicated and even a bit sassy.
“She’s helped us with our Alzheimer’s fundraising and all kinds of things,” Dobski said, referring to when she collected more than $3,000 in loose change for Alzheimer’s research. “You never have to question if whatever needs to happen actually did happen, because it did. The honesty, commitment, dedication — those are huge things.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].