SAVING THEIR BREATH: With the use of paper plates provided by Taniesha Sellers, Annette and Evaline swished out the candles on their cake celebrating a combined 205 years. (Warwick Beacon photos)
By JOHN HOWELL
Annette loves playing bingo.
Evaline can’t stand the game.
Annette is hard of hearing.
Evaline is partially blind.
Annette is 104.
Evaline is 101.
But they are good friends and frequently the first to get up to have breakfast.
Annette Letoile and Evaline Richmond didn’t meet each other until they were residents at the Green House Home at Saint Elizabeth's Community in East Greenwich. The Green House is more home than nursing facility with dining room, kitchen, living room and private rooms. Green House homes stand apart from each other. The four houses appear to be single-family homes with attached garages (no, the residents don’t drive). Each house is home to 12 residents.
Their birthdays coincide in January, and the residents of 19 Saint Elizabeth Way celebrated their birthdays Friday with a giant cake. Six candles were lit - one for each digit. Residents joined in chorus and then the women were handed paper plates to wave out the candles in a cloud of smoke and spontaneous applause.
Evaline is a storyteller. Off the bat, she cautioned that she has a sense of humor, which she considers the elixir of life. She enjoys making fun, especially of herself. She was born in Providence and grew up in Pawtucket. She married George, a draftsman, in 1946. They lived in Lincoln and planned on a family, however, Evaline was unable to have children. She thought of adopting, however, George wasn’t keen on that. When the Navy pulled out of Quonset and the Ocean State economy went into a tailspin, George lost his job as a draftsman. He couldn’t find employment. They couldn’t afford health care. Times were tough.
Happiest job ever
Evaline, who has worked a number of jobs, went to work for Ward Fisher, the accounting firm that was doing the work for Pawtucket Manufacturing, where she had also worked. She liked bookkeeping and the people at Ward Fisher. She worked for the company for 18 years.
“It was the happiest job I ever had,” she says. She still maintains a connection with Armand Garabedian, who is now retired from the firm and visits her regularly. Although she doesn’t have a family of her own, Evaline has an extensive network of friends and cousins who regularly visit. They include John Kelly from Care New England (my caretaker), who she worked for as a volunteer at Pawtucket Memorial Hospital. The Green House residents have dubbed him “the pie guy” because Kelly brings a pie on Saturdays. Then there’s Barbara from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pawtucket, who takes care of her shopping needs on Thursdays. “I’m very blessed,” she says.
Annette is attempting to follow her friend’s story. Her daughter Karen Penn is at her side jotting down the exchange on a white board from which Annette looks back and forth. Karen is the oldest of three daughters Annette and her husband George had, Denise and Michele being the other two, along with twin sons, Richard and Stephen. They were married for 42 years, lived in Pawtucket and had a summer home in Narragansett where Annette eventually moved after her husband’s death in 1993. She is so proud of her children, 11 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Injured finger leads to a proposal
Annette grew up in Warren, and after completing three years of high school moved to Pawtucket to work for a doctor who also provided lodging. She completed high school taking night courses. On the weekends she would take the bus with friends for the dances at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet. That’s where she met George, but the courtship came later. George injured his finger at work and as fate would have it went to the doctor where Annette worked.
Annette smiles as she describes it. He kept coming back, although the injury was well healed. They were married in 1951. George, who had served in the U. S. Army Air Force as a mechanic, was working for a machine manufacturer. He started his own business, Star Chopper, and developed and patented a machine to finely cut metal, the Chopper. Karen points out “Star” was for L'Etoile, French for star.
Annette has always had a creative streak and a passion for sewing. She attended classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and designed and sewed her wedding-day suit. At 104, her sewing machine is one of those things she misses most. She was actively involved in the Pawtucket YWCA, "Y Wives Club", where she often taught sewing and cooking as well as supported numerous community outreach projects. Apart from bingo, which she loves, Annette is an avid reader and is always working on a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle spread out on a table in her room. As her daughter points out, she rarely misses the home's activities, whether it’s an outing on the bus or baking banana bread for Saint Elizabeth's Day to donate to the community.
Evaline keeps making friends
Following her husband’s death, Evaline branched out to make yet more friends. She attended a retreat where she met Diane. They shared experiences and “became the best of friends.” They took a bike trip to Martha’s Vineyard, and vacations to St. Louis and Florida. When Diane moved to Florida, they remained in touch and, of course, when Diane is in these parts she visits.
When Evaline gave up her house to move to Saint Elizabeth Assisted Living in Providence, she learned of the Green House. She loved the concept of a supportive system where residents could do a lot on their own.
“I thought if I could only go there,” she said. Then in a display of her humor she switches to her recent birthday. “No one lives this long,” she says when asked how it feels to be 101. Evaline keeps up with the news. When asked of the campaign for president she won’t talk about Trump and would just as soon avoid politics.
Annette takes it in. “I like our president. I don’t want a change,” she says.
Evaline reads two or three audio books a month on her Kindle, the most recent being Jefferson’s Daughters, Three Sisters, White and Black in a Young America which she highly recommended. She’s into a mystery now. “It’s kind of trashy after the other,” she says. Evaline calls Betsy, one of the attendants at the home, her Kindle angel. Betsy helps make the reading selections and sets them up on the Kindle.
Hitting it off
Being early risers and first to breakfasters, Evaline and Annette discovered they had visited many of the same places and shared interests. “We just hit it off,” said Evaline.
“You were an opera singer,” says Annette. Evaline corrects. She sang solos with the church choir, the RI Civic Choral at their chamber concerts (with a full orchestra), and the National Anthem at the inauguration of Governor John Chafee. But there’s more to the story and Evaline has a sharp memory. During a call following the party, she fills in some of the details about her singing and St. Paul’s Church.
She revels in the beauty of the church, providing a brief history of the church down to who cast the bell and the roles Samuel Slater and his relatives played in the history of the church. She started singing in the choir as a teen and retired more than 50 years later.
Asked what she likes about life, Annette says, “I’m grateful for my family…my faith in God carries me day by day.”
Her daughter smiles with the thought of another story. When Annette was taken to the hospital for delivery, the family decided to play a joke on George telling him he was the father of twins when he arrived. Following the delivery of a boy, the doctor left. Fortunately, the nurse was still there for the delivery of a second boy. Years later, the twins would work side by side with their father in his business.
“I had a happy marriage. He (George) gave me a beautiful home,” Annette says. During the pandemic, Annette, who was living alone at home under the close supervision of her children, had a fall. She was taken to Saint Elisabeth's for rehab where she and the family learned of the Green House. She moved into the Green House Homes in September 2021.
“It feels like home,” says Annette.
No wonder, it’s full of friends and Evaline, who also enjoys an early breakfast and loves sharing stories.
It's more than just being centenarians that joins these two women in friendship, it's their positive outlook on life and their grateful hearts that allow them to thrive and continue to share many of their life experiences with each other.
Warwick Beacon, 2/1/24 https://warwickonline.com/stor...
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