Tom Wilson was self-sufficient well into his late 80s, until an allergic reaction to prescribed medications left him in need of an assisted living facility. He initially was moved into a secular, for-profit facility.
“It became apparent very quickly that it would not be an option for him long term,” his daughter, Jean Beckman, said. “It was clean, it was neat, it was tidy. The people seemed efficient, but it was lacking care and dignity and a personal connection.”
Despite following regulation codes, there were definite gaps in proper care. Beckman remembers calling for assistance when her father asked to use the restroom. “They said, ‘Oh, just let him go in his pants and we’ll change him.’
“And I just thought that is not respecting a person’s dignity to let that happen. That’s when we turned to Santa Teresita.”
The Carmelite-run assisted living center in Duarte, California, is home to about 20 residents. They also have a skilled nursing home for about 100 patients.
Wilson had a history of service to others before needing someone to care for him. A native of California, Wilson served in the Navy during WWII. He was a proud veteran and “always wore his veteran hat everywhere he went,” his daughter said.
Wilson met his future wife, Marie, while he was recovering from surgery and still in the Navy. He was at the same hospital as Marie’s brother, another Navy soldier.
Marie and Tom married in 1945 and raised three children together: Annie, Jim and Jean. His wife passed away in 1990, while Wilson survived her for another 22 years.
Wilson also had a legacy of service to the Carmelite sisters. As a boy in Alhambra, he was an alter server for the Carmelites. He also took the elderly for walks at the Carmelite center when he was an older man.
“It really came full circle,” Beckman said. “He was serving the sisters and then they served him.”
Beckman is grateful to Santa Teresita for the love and care they showed her father during his last two years of life.
For Sister Mary Clare, the CEO of Santa Teresita, her work is informed by the belief that the elderly are deposits of wisdom in our society. They need to feel they have a necessary role.
She also says that the final years are a time to prepare for heaven. Don’t waste or hasten these years, the sister says. These years are a time to become as beautiful as possible for our final home.
“The sisters are very generous about trying to get their residents involved in things so they’re not lonely and they’re not bored,” Beckman says. Many activities are offered to the residents, such as computer training and gardening, but Wilson’s favorite was teaching reading to young kids from the kindergarten run by the Carmelites.
“My father used to tutor children to read twice a week,” Beckman says. “And that was the highlight of my father’s existence at Santa Teresita.” She added, “It was a great interaction and a great activity for him and it made him feel so needed and proud and valued.”
Sister Mary Clare stresses the need for one-on-one interaction between the elderly and children. One previous organized game involved using a large balloon, covering it in shaving cream and having the elderly residents teach the young kindergarten students how to shave.
Another great joy for Wilson was the daily opportunity to receive the sacraments. Earlier in his life, Wilson had been a eucharistic minister for St. Dorothy’s Parish in Glendora. He loved going to Mass every day.
“He was the finest example of a devout and holy Catholic,” Beckman said. “At his funeral, I had several people tell me that he had inspired them to change their lives.”
Beckman says her father found a special place at Santa Teresita.
“The sisters create an environment that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. This is a vocation for them, not just a job. And it’s very clear that they love the residents.”
She adds, “When my dad was there — as hard as it was to put him in a residence — I knew he was being loved and valued and treated as a member of the family.”
Beckman is eager to tell others about her experience. She says. “I recommended it to my next door neighbor and her mother just moved in last week.”
She and her husband, Michael, also help with the Carmelite’s fundraising gala — they want the assisted living home to flourish. “My husband and I have often said, ‘I hope when the time comes that there’s going to be room for us.’”