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Nursing homes make Valentine's Day special for Lodi seniors

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Posted: Monday, February 14, 2005 10:00 pm

Valentine's Day is not just for the young. It's for the young at heart.

Just ask Lodi resident Viola Smith, who celebrated what many see as a racy and romantic holiday in the unlikeliest of places -- a convalescent hospital.

The 91-year-old Smith was named Valentine's Day queen of Vienna Convalescent Hospital for 2005 on Monday. The title came with roses, a crown and dozens of well wishes.

Hundreds of seniors in nursing homes throughout Lodi celebrated a holiday that, to them, is less about first loves and boxes of chocolates and more about friends, family and fond memories.

"(Young people) have celebrated so few (Valentine's Days) that they don't know what it's all about," said

Smith's daughter, Wanda Randall.

"It really changes after 50 years. It really does."

At the Wine Country Care Center on Turner Road, seniors shared stories of their own special Valentine's Day or recited poems.

Though painful memories of a lost love kept some residents from partaking in the celebration, most people looked forward to the cupcakes and entertainment, activity director Regina Chism said.

Violist Matthew Miller performs at the Valentine festivities at Vienna Convalescent Hospital in Lodi on Monday. (Casey Freeman/News-Sentinel)

"This is a good time (for some) to reminisce about the love they've shared," Chism said.

Most convalescent hospitals understand that recognizing special holidays is a way to bring cheer to residents who receive few visitors and otherwise might not have celebrated them.

At Crescent Court Nursing Home, a party is the best way for staff to include everyone in good times, said activity director Deia Bustamante.

"We try to make it special for them because a lot of (residents) don't have family coming in to bring them something," Bustamante said.

That includes taking photographs of people standing in front of a large heart and displaying the pictures throughout the building.

At Vienna, the tradition of choosing a king and queen goes back 14 years, said the hospital's activity director, Ester Ayala, who organized the coronation.

"It's kind of a popularity contest," Ayala said, speaking of the two-week voting period leading up to the coronation.

Galt Community Kazoo Band members perform at the Valentine's Day festivities at Vienna Convalescent Hospital in Lodi on Monday. (Casey Freeman/News-Sentinel)

This year, resident Ted Whittmayer took the title of king, though Smith's ascension to the throne was a landslide victory.

The couple were led out to a dance floor in the activity room, where they sat wheelchair to wheelchair awaiting their crowns.

Whittmayer wore a solemn expression as an attendant daintily placed Smith's tiara in the soft white puff of her hair.

Behind them, the Galt Community Band played a rendition of "Let me Call You Sweetheart."

Though the event was near the top of Smith's list of best Valentine's Day celebrations, the woman could not help but remember how she used to celebrate with her late husband Harold, who lavished her with Valentine's Day gifts during their 65-year marriage.

"A long time ago, he used to keep me covered in Taboo perfume," Smith said with a wistful smile, adding that the scent to this day reminds her of Harold. "We had a good life."

Contact reporter Sara Cardine at sarac@lodinews.com.

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