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Seventy-eight-year-old volunteer goes extra mile to make Bowling Green nursing home residents smile

Free Lance-Star - 1/8/2018

Jan. 07--Spencer Allen has a nickname for almost everyone at the Bowling Green Health and Rehabilitation Center.

One resident is "Fuzzy Wuzzy." Another is "Lover Boy." One of the nurses is "Big Deal Lucille."

When Allen comes to visit, which he does almost every other day, he greets patients and staff by name--and usually a hug, a pat on the back or a squeeze of the hand.

"Watch this," he said mischievously, blowing a kiss to a woman seated in a wheelchair across the room. She giggled and batted it away.

At 78, Allen is older than many of the nursing home residents he visits, but his only concession to age is no longer getting up on a ladder to clean the facility's gutters. And this year he decided that "someone younger" could take on his role as Santa Claus.

He's been making occupants of Bowling Green Health and Rehab smile and laugh for 15 years and says he plans to keep visiting them, "as long as I'm able to."

"And then he'll come back as a ghost," joked resident Dennis Arrington.

In March, Allen received the statewide Virginia Association of Activity Professionals Volunteer of the Year Award for 2016.

"Spencer is always there when I need him," one patient wrote in a nomination letter to VAAP for the award. "He brightens my day by joking with me and when I am feeling down, he always finds a way to lift my spirits. It seems like he is heaven-sent."

The nursing home's activities director, Danyelle Hudson, wrote, "Since I've been working here, Spencer Allen has been the most reliable and consistent volunteer. He spreads warmth and cheer like no other."

Administrator Emanuel Motley wrote, "I've personally seen [Allen] go the extra mile just to see a smile on another person's face."

Allen, who is retired from his job as foreman of the supply and services division at Fort A.P. Hill, said he started coming to the nursing home to visit friends who were patients there.

He kept coming because he noticed that some of the other patients never had visitors.

"I tell my wife this: If I see a smile on their faces, see them laughing and joking, it makes my trip complete," he said.

When patients are extroverted, Allen will tease and joke with them, like he does with Dorothy Mitchell. Mitchell calls Allen "her stand-by" and says the two of them giggle and gossip about Mitchell's boyfriend, who lives down the hall.

Allen already knows a lot of the residents just from being a nearly lifelong Bowling Greener. He used to babysit one resident's kids and another's father was his father's boss.

With patients he doesn't know or those who are shy, he'll play quiet, one-on-one board games until the ice is broken.

"I just keep going in and talking to them," he said.

He bought one resident a watch and used to buy prizes for the weekly Bingo games. He'll go shopping for residents and bring them treats--but he knows which ones are not supposed to have sugar.

Eleven years ago, Allen became the primary caretaker of Charlie Claytor, 67. Claytor is blind and has lived at Bowling Green Health and Rehab since his parents died. His brother lives in a nursing home in New York City and made Allen legally responsible for Claytor.

Allen and his wife take Claytor shopping--to the Ladysmith Food Lion, where Claytor has a favorite cashier--for his favorite snacks of cookies, Pepsi, bananas and cherry tomatoes. They drive him to visit his neighbors at his old house.

They make sure Claytor's closet is full of clothes that fit--long-sleeved plaid flannel shirts for winter and short-sleeved striped shirts for summer--and clean dancing shoes, because dancing is one of his favorite hobbies.

Allen also made sure that Claytor wouldn't be alone when he wasn't able to be there. He suggested Arrington as a roommate for Claytor and the two have now lived together and been good friends for four years.

Allen jokes that he's "living on borrowed time," because both of his parents died in their 50s. But his brother is 77 and he has two sisters who are 75 and 70 and he says his wife is his secret to staying healthy.

"As we always say at Bowling Green, 'God is really going to roll out the red carpet for him when it's Spencer's time to make it to heaven, as he has seen so many of his friends do here,'" Hudson said.

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(c)2018 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome

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