101 Christmases: How a centenarian still finds joy in every season

senior citizen happy

Connie Dickinson is preparing to celebrate her 101st Christmas. A resident of Calder Woods in Beaumont, the centenarian still finds joy in each holiday season, and her bright-eyed smile proves it.

“I think joy at Christmas comes from other people and seeing how happy they are,” Dickinson said. “Especially here at Calder Woods. When my friends’ children and grandchildren come to visit, they’re so happy! And that makes me happy too.”

Dickinson never had any children of her own, but fondly remembers Christmases as a child. She grew up in Memphis, Tenn., alongside her three brothers and three sisters.

“We were all good children,” she laughed. “It’s hard to remember back that far through all the Christmases I’ve celebrated, but the ones I remember best are the ones when we were all together.”

Through the years, Dickinson says she’s seen a lot of change in the way we celebrate the holiday.

“I don’t think Christmas means the same to people as it used to,” she said. “When I was growing up, we were all so excited about Santa Claus and all the festivities. But now kids get everything they want throughout the year, so Christmas isn’t as special.”

Dickinson herself values giving back to the community during the holidays and year-round. Two days a week, she drives herself to Baptist Hospital Beaumont where she’s been volunteering for nearly 30 years and has completed a total of more than 15,000 service hours. In August, she was recognized as one of five finalists for the TexanPlus Champion Competition, a contest that recognizes senior adults for their contributions to the Southeast Texas community.

This year, Dickinson will celebrate Christmas at Calder Woods alongside friends and neighbors. Her favorite part of the holiday season? Going to church for Christmas services.

‘Every day is Mother’s Day’ | Buckner Calder Woods

Ben Mazzara and family

BEAUMONT, Texas – Not many people go to work every day and see their mom. Ben Mazzara, executive director of Buckner Calder Woods, says he’s an administrator from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. but before 8 and after 5, he’s family. His mom moved in several weeks ago and now “every day is Mother’s Day.”<!–more–>

His 84-year-old mother had a stroke about six months ago while on the waiting list for a spot at Calder Woods. She’s in skilled nursing as she rehabilitates but she told Mazzara that after all she’s survived in her life – including a German bombing during World War Two in the Italian village she grew up in and Hurricane Carla in Galveston in 1961 – “no stroke is going to get me down.”

Mazzara, the only son in the family, is very close to his mother. His fondest memories are going on family cruises and going to church together. His parents were both born and raised in Sicily, Italy, so he grew up hearing them speak Italian around the house. He loved hearing stories of their home country.

Mazzara was also very close to his grandparents. Growing up, he visited his aging grandmother every day at a nursing home in Galveston. His father visited her in the morning; his mom visited in the afternoon; and Ben visited in the evenings.

“I had the grave yard shift,” he joked. “But I was what they call a ‘late in life’ child, so I was used to being around senior adults.”

One day, the executive director of the nursing home approached Mazzara and told him he should seriously consider getting a license to operate a retirement community. The director saw his passion and dedication to his grandmother, and at the time, he was a hospital administrator, so it wouldn’t have been a huge stretch.

Mazzara decided to go for it. He sat for the boards and 20 years later, he still loves every minute of it.

“I don’t look as this so much as a job as it is a ministry,” Mazzara said. “My favorite aspect is that we’re a faith-based Christian ministry. My mom loves God so much and she is truly devoted to her faith. It made the decision easy to choose Calder Woods.”

As his mother recovers from the stroke, he is hopeful she will be able to talk and walk again. But most of all, he’s looking forward to his mother’s Italian cooking.

“They staff treat her just like they would treat anyone else. They treat everyone as though it’s their own mother, and I treat everyone as if they were my own mother.”

Another reason Mazzara chose Calder Woods is because of its U.S. News five-star rehabilitation facility.

“There’s such a stigma attached to nursing homes and nursing facilities. We need to invite people from the outside to come in. If they look at Buckner, they’ll see we are a family and we exceed minimum standards.”

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