The wealth of knowledge and experiences seniors possess are ones we as a society often times take for granted. But for their stories to live on, someone must tell them...
Ms. Mary Ann McGourty - Resident of Wesley Woods of Atlanta: Wesley Woods Towers
OVERCOMING DESPAIR & BLOSSOMING AT 80
How depression took Mary Ann on an unexpected journey into her best golden years.
Ms. Mary Ann McGourty moved to Wesley Woods Towers a mere year and a half ago and has completely transformed herself into “Chapter 2 Mary Ann.”
A widow of 12 years and a loving mother and grandmother, she spent the majority of her life running a perennial nursery and garden design business with her husband in Connecticut. “I had a wonderful community but after my husband passed, I was living alone and suffered from breast cancer. I also began feeling concerned about the winter weather,” Mary Ann explains.
With the rest of her family living in the South, Mary Ann decided to buy a house in Athens, Georgia. That’s when life drastically changed for her.
“Moving to Athens did not go well. I had lost my husband. Both of my cats died. I felt alone because I had no community. I found the house and yard too much for me. I was scared to drive and would go days without leaving my home. I was pretty much lost and fell into a deep depression which resulted in a complete mental breakdown,” Mary Ann shares.
Thankfully, Mary Ann’s loving family stepped in to help. Her children knew that Wesley Woods was the right place for her to heal and thrive. With her son living near Wesley Woods Towers in Atlanta, she quickly moved to the Personal Care Floor for a fresh start.
“Since moving to Wesley Woods, I feel more like myself than I have in a very long time." - Ms. Mary Ann McGourty
“When I first moved to Wesley Woods, I was insecure and had little confidence to do the things I once enjoyed like taking care of a cat, gardening or driving.” But just six months after moving in, Mary Ann became known by all as a vibrant and friendly member of the community.
Mary Ann has now moved to an Independent Living apartment, is driving again, exercises five days a week, takes care of her kitten named Bingo, has joined a church, eats dinner with fellow residents every night, and has recently been promoted to Assistant Leader of the Wesley Woods garden, where you can find her working daily.
“The silver lining for me in this journey has to be the loving staff at Wesley Woods. They are so wonderful to me and have helped me become as independent as possible. There’s no question having this community of loving staff and neighbors helped me improve my physical and mental health.”
Mary Ann’s transformation has amazed us all. She continues to grow and contribute - not slow down - at 80 years of age. With her life’s motto being “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Mary Ann gives back to the community through her love of gardening. Since she has found this as a place of peace and comfort, she wants to give that same experience to others.
So next time you’re near the Wesley Woods Towers community, enjoy a stroll around the grounds and take in the beautiful garden plots, raised flower beds, hummingbird feeders and birdhouses. May they remind you of what can blossom with the loving care of an older adult community like Wesley Woods - no matter what your age or circumstances.
FROM "ABC" TO "LOOK AT ME!"
A story of incredible determination, strength and perseverance after a lifetime struggle with learning.
Meet Ms. Eunice Andrews. Eunice is a six-year resident of Wesley Woods at Branan Towers, a HUD-subsidized, Section 8 community in East Atlanta. A native of Round Oak, Georgia, her life began with struggles almost as soon as she entered this world. “My mom died when I was eight days old, so I was moved to Atlanta and adopted by her sister, which made me the youngest of her four children,” Eunice explains.
From as far back as Eunice can remember, she’s had trouble learning, no matter how hard she tried. “I was pushed aside by teachers and family. No one really had time for me, so I did the best I could to teach myself things like how to read,” she shares.
Eunice was able to accomplish reading at an elementary level and worked hard as a food service supervisor before retiring. But when Eunice moved to Branan Towers, she relied on her children to read her mail, help her grocery shop, balance her checkbook, and pay her taxes. “I could kind of read, but I couldn’t understand what I was reading,” she explains.
At 69 years old, she woke up and decided it was time to make a change. She wanted to be more independent and was more motivated than ever to change her circumstances at any cost. That’s when the Branan Towers Reading Group was formed.
Eunice confided her deep desire to learn how to read to Ms. Joan Field, the Life Enrichment Director at Branan Towers. After much investigation, Joan found a reading leader and offered the class to other older adult residents interested in improving their reading skills. Now Eunice has a community of support from others of all reading levels to help on her literacy journey.
“Joan has been my biggest encourager. It really does mean a lot for someone who knows how to read to be concerned about those of us who don’t, and then to do something about it so that we can have the same knowledge as them,” Eunice explains. “It’s been a real challenge but I didn’t give up because I had her support,” she says as tears of joy roll down her cheeks.
The reading group meets every Thursday and is often led by Rev. Emma Daniel, a local pastor who visits Branan Towers. Other times, fellow resident and friend, Ms. Mattie Hinton, leads.
Almost three years in the making, the Branan Towers Reading Group started off learning through books like “Pinocchio,” “Black Beauty,” and “The Wizard of Oz.” Today, they are tackling “Born Free” by Joy Adamson and “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis.
“Thanks to this reading group, I can now read and pay my own bills, balance my own checkbook, and grocery shop on my own. I can’t explain what it feels like to no longer need people’s help with those things,” Eunice says with a smile.
It’s clear that Eunice isn’t planning to stop now. So what’s next for her? Her goal is to be able to read through the Bible. Thanks to caring staff who value older adults, she will have a community of love to help walk her through it every step of the way.
Finding a leader for the Branan Towers Reading Group is a challenge our beloved older adults face each month. If you or someone you know are able to help Eunice and others reach their reading goals, please contact Joan Field at (404) 622-5471.
Ms. Eunice Andrews - Resident of Wesley Woods of Atlanta: Branan Towers
Ms. Elizabeth Evans - Resident of Wesley Woods of Augusta: St. John Towers
AGE IS A NUMBER, NEVER AN ENDING
No natural disaster, loss or challenge can keep this older adult from treating every day as a gift.
Oftentimes, society envisions the second half of life as a time of loss, slowing down, and being less of a contributor. This couldn’t be less true of Ms. Elizabeth Evans who lives at St. John Towers, the Wesley Woods community in Augusta, Georgia. She has a very eclectic background with education at the core, and there are no signs of her stopping, even at the age of 80.
Elizabeth was one of the first 25 women in history to be accepted to North Carolina State University. She studied industrial psychology and went on to work for DuPont Company and Kidde Aerospace and Defense in Atlanta for many years. She switched careers to full-time motherhood, but couldn’t find a suitable school for her children. So naturally, Elizabeth flew to England to get her Montessori certificate and founded Big Pine Montessori School in Augusta! Starting her own school sparked a passion for early education inside of Elizabeth. She got her BA in Elementary Education, Master’s in Teaching with an emphasis in early childhood, and then a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instructional Development. She’s had fellowships and studies in Rome, Florence, and Capri, Italy, and did post doctoral work at Harvard University. In 2013, she studied religious philosophy at Oxford University in England.
Sadly, Elizabeth’s husband died in 2004. She needed to mend a broken heart, so even though she had been retired for 11 years, she accepted a faculty position at the University of Louisiana, just two weeks before hurricane Katrina hit. Not only being “hurricane weary,” but in need of the best medical services, Elizabeth returned to Augusta after several years of hurricane recovery.
Elizabeth’s health problems continued, and she decided it was time for a simpler life without the burdens of home and yard maintenance. She moved to St. John Towers after years of knowing its reputation as a safe and loving community. But the day after she moved in, Elizabeth became very ill and was taken to the hospital where she had emergency surgery the next day. “When I came home, we all realized just how fortunate I was that this happened at St. John Towers. Had I been by myself, I wouldn’t have had anyone there to help. It would have been quite tragic,” Elizabeth says.
You would think with managing her own personal health challenges after being a hardworking and loving mother, wife and career woman all of her life, that Elizabeth would be ready for a much deserved break. But that’s just not how Elizabeth views her Chapter 2 life. “At this point in my life, I think that it’s important to have the freedom of pursuing the things that I have always wanted to do that I was not able to do before. Maybe because I was a career woman, or that I was raising three children - but now, I want to do so many things, and I plan to do them,” she says with excitement.
As a first step, Elizabeth began attending art classes at St. John Towers. She had never painted a picture in her life until then! She has also initiated a book club at the community - an enjoyable way to meet people and make friends. She says, “moving to St. John Towers is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Elizabeth’s story reminds us that every day is a second chance and that we should live life to its fullest no matter what challenges we face - and regardless of our age!