Ask a teacher: Teacher Appreciation Week with a former educator

LaNelle Butler

LaNelle Butler, a Buckner Villas resident, is a veteran of the education field. She taught for 36 years across the state of Texas, and as part of Teacher Appreciation Week is sharing her words of wisdom for teachers today.

What grades did you teach?

I taught mostly fourth and fifth grade social studies and math. I taught all over Texas, plus one year in New Mexico. When I first started teaching, I worked in Kermit, Texas, because they paid higher teacher salaries. Starting teachers made $3,400 a year!

What were you known for as a teacher?

Kids loved me! Math was my specialty.

What was the most rewarding part of being a teacher?

Seeing a child change over the year was the most rewarding. They learn to get along with each other better, and they take their studies more seriously. I don’t know if I did anything to facilitate that growth, or if it was just part of growing up, but I liked to see it.

What students were most memorable?

Tom Ford, the fashion designer, was in one of my fourth grade classes and I remember him well! He was like a little man, always coming to my desk to talk to me. He was very creative. A few years ago I sent him an email, and he immediately responded back. That was wonderful and fulfilling! He was a precious one.

Why did you become a teacher?

Growing up, I always admired my teachers. My fourth grade teacher especially planted the seed to want to go to college and become a teacher, but no one in my family had ever been to college. I started teaching the kids at church on Sunday nights, and that’s when it all began.

Why did you stay a teacher?

I never once thought of doing anything else. I loved it that much! My whole teaching career happened during a time of major social and institutional change, but the people made it worthwhile.

What advice do you have for teachers today?

Keep going! To be a teacher, you have to love to teach and you have to like kids. Stick with it even when it’s hard. The kids are worth it. I retired in 1991, and in all my years of teaching there was never a time that I didn’t love every child I taught.

Volunteering: “just the natural thing” for one Beaumont senior

senior man accepting volunteering award

91-year-old Calder Woods resident John Templeton is known around the Beaumont senior living community for his helpful, can-do attitude.

During any given week, you’ll find him leading the Calder Woods sing-along, helping Chaplain Fontenot during church services, facilitating Wednesday’s intercessory prayer session, counseling during the Alzheimer’s caregiver support group, providing entertainment during Thursday’s social hour or just lending a hand to a neighbor in need.

Simply put, Templeton is a one-stop-shop for Calder Woods volunteer efforts and an easy choice for Calder Woods’ 2018 Volunteer of the Year.

“Ever since he moved to Calder Woods, Mr. Templeton has been an integral part of this community,” said Ben Mazarra, executive director of Calder Woods. “He proves that moving to a senior living community isn’t about slowing down, but about getting involved and doing your part to help the community thrive. Recognizing him as our Volunteer of the Year was a true honor.”

For Templeton, though, volunteering is natural.

“It almost seems routine to me,” he said. “I just love people and like to see them happy. It’s so rewarding when I can do something for someone. I don’t have any hesitation about helping when I can.”

Templeton moved to Calder Woods with his now-late wife in 2009 after a longtime career at Texaco. He and his wife were married 65 years and spent much of their time in early retirement volunteering at the local hospital. It was his upbringing, Templeton said, that taught him to give back.

“Being involved in church life really motivated me to be aware of other people and find ways to assist their needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as talking to them and encouraging them. I’ve been blessed with good health, especially as a 91-year-old! My legs are still good, and I can just pop up and help someone whenever they need.”

Love like a hurricane: Couple shares windy start to their 67-year marriage

senior couple

Buckner senior living communities are full of couples whose love for one another, and for the Lord, has lasted through the decades. They set examples of love that withstands life’s ups and downs and is better for having done so. We’re blessed to have these couples share their tips for relationship success in this month’s series “Loving Well.”

Sole and Beverly Coleman, residents at Buckner Westminster Place, are one such couple. The southern lovebirds have now been married 67 years, but they almost didn’t make it out of the church. They were married in the middle of a raging hurricane, and after the ceremony in Mobile, Ala., drove through torrential rain and high-powered winds to Biloxi, Miss.

As the couple says today, the eventful start to their marriage prepared them for life’s harder storms ahead. It was a foundation they would need later when Beverly was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and again when their family experienced significant and unexpected loss. Through it all, their love has stayed strong.

Their secret to a long, successful marriage?

“Be kind to one another!” Beverly said.

“Thoughtfulness and consideration of each other,” added Sole.

The Colemans laughed that grace is undeniably another ingredient in their recipe for happiness, as Sole always misses his wife’s April birthday to go turkey hunting.

“We made a deal,” Beverly explained. “He could go hunting on my birthday and I could do just whatever I wanted.”

Today, this happy couple laughs easily and often. They enjoy life alongside friends and neighbors at Westminster Place and cherish their growing family of two children and three granddaughters. The Coleman’s obvious commitment to each other inspires us to love our own families with the same persistent, unconditional love.

What it’s like to meet the president: Q&A with 91-year-old former Beaumont mayor

senior woman enjoying life.

Evelyn Lord, 91, is a resident of Calder Woods senior living community in Beaumont, has served four terms as Beaumont mayor (the first female to ever be elected) and was the third female elected to the Delaware state legislature.

Her political career has taken her around the country and the globe, so this Presidents’ Day she’s sharing memories from a lifetime of rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s most high-profile leaders.

Q: What made you get involved in politics?

A: I belonged to the League of Women Voters. We were very active in the slum clearance movement (now called urban renewal) and the Ladies’ Home Journal featured our work. When the story was published, both political parties asked if I would consider running on their ticket. This was the 1960’s, so it was still a big deal for a woman to run for state office.

Q: What did you love most about politics?

A: I loved making a difference in people’s lives. There was no satisfaction greater than when people would call me with a problem and instead of solving it for them, I would teach them how to solve it themselves. During my career I was the founding member of several initiatives that are still going, many of which involve young people. It feels good to look back and know that I ran my race and ran it well.

Q: Did you ever meet a sitting president?

A: Yes! I met President Clinton once at a White House event with mayors representing different parts of the country. It was a thrill! Of course, it’s always a thrill to meet anyone who’s famous. I’ve met some of the royal family and had several different opportunities. Once, I was seated next to President Nixon at a dinner party in Delaware. He asked to change seats because after he reprimanded our waitress I told him, “We’re in the public life, so don’t you think it’s our duty to be a little nicer?” It was quite the experience!

Q: What president most inspires you?

A: At first I’d think maybe George Washington, but really it’s Harry Truman. They were salt of the earth kind of people. And he had the courage to drop the atomic bomb. I can only imagine how difficult that was for him, but he had the courage to do it nonetheless.

Q: What advice would you give to young leaders today?

A: To me, the leadership model that works best in today’s mobile society is “bloom where you’re planted.” To enjoy any place you live, you have to become part of it. Join up. Participate. If you do this, it works! Becoming involved is what got me opportunities like meeting Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife, going to Argentina and meeting the royal family. Get busy and make yourself part of the community. Your reputation will follow you wherever you go.

Game show winner finds home at Calder Woods

game show winner

“Come on down!” is a phrase most recognize from the long-running television gameshow “The Price is Right.”

For 93-year-old Paul Arceneaux, though, those three words bring a smile and countless memories from a lifetime of chasing adventure.

The Calder Woods resident was a contestant on the popular show in 1985 and ended up winning $16,000 worth of prizes—equivalent to nearly $38,000 today.

“It sounded interesting, so we went to get tickets to the show,” remembers Arceneaux. “It turned out to be quite a deal!”

The winnings, including a handcrafted television cabinet, a washer and dryer and a lounge chair, were all delivered to his home in Lumberton, Texas. But for Arceneaux, the best prize was gaining one more experience to add to his list of accomplishments.

A native of Church Point, La., Arceneaux retired from the U.S. Postal Service at age 55 after 35 years of service. Shortly after, he and his wife lived out of their travel trailer for 20 years, visiting 49 states and multiple Canadian provinces. Along the way, he made it a point to experience as many adventures as possible. Even while in Los Angeles for the now famous “Price is Right” appearance, he and his wife attended the Rose Parade and nearly 20 live show tapings, including “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and “The Merv Griffin Show.” Travel, Arceneaux said, is a natural part of his life.

“I always wanted to travel,” Arceneaux said. “I traveled the whole Pacific Ocean while serving in WWII, and even though I was just a kid then, it boosted me to want to see everything I could.”

Today, Arceneaux has 12 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. They frequently visit the travel trailer together for family gatherings. And while he doesn’t travel much anymore, he’s enjoying his home at the new Calder Woods garden apartment homes where he still watches “The Price is Right” nearly every day.

Lifelong fisherman finds fishing paradise at Westminster Place

senior man fishing

January is National Hobby Month, so each week we’re featuring different hobbies and talents of residents at Buckner senior living communities. This week, meet Jerry Blissette, the famous fisherman at Buckner Westminster Place in Longview. 

Some people choose a senior living community for its friendly atmosphere, five-star dining or luxury amenities.

For Jerry Blissette, however, it was the fishing pond at Buckner Westminster Place that sealed the deal.

“The pond is right outside my window,” said Blissette, “and I can fish as often as I want!”

At 81, the East Texas native has been fishing since he was five years old. He remembers his dad taking him to a small creek near their house, fishing for a few hours, and then bringing the catch home to his mother. She’d fry up the winnings to feed her growing family of two girls and three boys.

“I couldn’t get enough of fishing,” Blissette said. “It didn’t matter how big the fish were, I just loved to be out there. And I haven’t stopped since.”

Blissette has fished all over North America, from Mexico to Canada and even Alaska where he caught salmon. Many of the fish he’s caught through these expeditions are mounted in his independent living apartment.

Now, Blissette fishes every day at Westminster Place, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. He’s only missed a few days since moving to the community with his sister in October, and even then just for weather. Every day, he catches three or four fish before throwing them back.

The dining staff enjoy Blissette’s fishing hour almost as much as he does. They often join him outside after their lunch shifts, sitting under a pavillion while he sits in his fishing chair. Each time he catches a fish, they cheer.

“It’s like I have my own cheering section,” Blissette laughed. “Everyone here at Buckner is like family. My sister and I wanted to decide where to move while we could still make the decision for ourselves, and I’m so glad we picked Buckner.”

And after 76 years of fishing, Blissette doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“It’s a quiet time. It’s just me and the fish, and I love it.”

Faith Focus: ‘Give him yours’

seniors smiling

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

Pastor Cuong Manh Tran knew he needed help. More specifically, he knew he needed a kidney.

After decades of pastoring Mobberly Baptist Church’s small Vietnamese congregation, Tran had had to step down due to rapidly declining health. He spent hours on dialysis treatments each day and eventually learned he would need a transplant if he hoped to live much longer. He and his wife waited prayerfully for the right match to come. Expecting the kidney to come from a deceased person, they understood the wait might take years.

What he didn’t expect, however, was for the donation to come from someone living. Someone, in fact, he called friend.

77-year-old John Ramsey, a Buckner Westminster Place resident who at the time had known Tran for just a few years, saw his friend’s need. He joined the family in prayer, but the answer to those prayers led to an unexpected conviction: Ramsey donated his own kidney.

“I was praying for Brother Tran, and it was as if the Lord said, ‘What’s wrong with your kidney? You give him yours.’ And I just knew I had to do this.”

Today, both Ramsey and Tran are healthy. Tran is back working at the church occasionally. Ramsey is back enjoying resident activities at Westminster Place. They even spent the holidays together.

Tran and Ramsey’s story is a beautiful picture of the gospel—one of the closest we may see this side of heaven. Giving of oneself so another might live. This is what Christ did for us.

Ramsey gave comfort, security and assurance of health so his friend might have a chance at life.

God gave his Son, and the Son gave his life, so we might have eternal life.

This week, how can you take time to reflect on the gift of the gospel more? How will you let the undeserved gift of eternal life impact your life today?

A love built with stitches

old clothing

January is National Hobby Month, so each week we’re featuring different hobbies and talents of residents at Buckner senior living communities. This week, meet Jo Ann Cannon, the heralded seamstress of Calder Woods in Beaumont.

It’s difficult to say which is sweeter: Jo Ann Cannon’s Alabaman, Southern belle accent or the carefully hand-sewn garments she crafts for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The 87-year-old Calder Woods resident has been a seamstress most of her life, but in the last 40 years has devoted her creative efforts almost entirely to French hand sewing, a unique European technique that uses delicate fabrics and no sewing machine. She’s put together countless outfits for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren using the finest laces and linens she could find.

“When I first learned this technique, it opened a whole new world for me,” Cannon said. “I’ve had the best time with it every since!”

Every Monday, Cannon, a native of Alabama who moved to Texas five years ago to be closer to her daughter, gathers with a small group of local women to work on their sewing projects. While she continues her latest endeavors for family members, the other ladies hand stitch clothes for local foster children. Monday nights, Cannon said, have become one of her favorite times of the week.

“Hand sewing is an art, and we don’t want those skills to be lost,” Cannon said. “These clothes express our love for the people we give them to. It’s comforting to know you’ve made something beautiful.”

Cannon sees sewing as a labor of love, and often uses her talents to help others. During the recent Hurricane Harvey disaster that flooded much of Beaumont and surrounding areas, a friend’s antique wedding gown from the 1800’s was nearly destroyed. Cannon, because of her experience working with delicate fabrics, was able to restore the dress to its original quality.

“It was an honor to  be able to help my friend keep an heirloom like that after such a disaster, and it meant so much to her!” Cannon said.

Cannon takes pride in the things she creates, and in crafting clothes that last. Many of the clothes her great-grandchildren wear today, in fact, are ones she sewed for her own daughter decades ago. The sewing discipline itself, however, didn’t pass through the generations.

“They just think it’s so convenient that I can do it,” laughed Cannon, who enjoys her role as the family mender and seamstress.

Calder Woods has welcomed Cannon’s talent and helped her convert the second bedroom in her independent living apartment into a sewing room. There, Cannon stores countless thread types, linens and exotic fabrics from her and her husband’s world travels, including pieces from Russia, Ireland and Scotland.

“Hand sewing is a process,” Cannon said. “You enjoy the process and are really kind of sad when the little garment is finished. But that’s what makes it fun, always getting to make something new.”

Coming home to another Buckner Christmas

senior smiling at christmas

Billie Selke is preparing to celebrate her first Christmas at Parkway Place, a Buckner senior living community located in the heart of Houston.

But this won’t be Selke’s first Christmas under a Buckner roof.

At age 8, Selke, now 87, moved to Buckner Children’s Home in Dallas after both her parents died of tuberculosis. Her two brothers were placed with family members. Selke, the oldest, stayed at Buckner until she graduated high school in 1947. Every Christmas she remembers as a child was spent with her Buckner family—the 600 other children who called Buckner home.

“Each child was in awe of Christmas at Buckner,” Selke said. “People were so kind and generous. They made sure every one of us had a special holiday. We even had Santa come!”

Selke remembers these Christmases as simple, but special. Each child received what they called “strings”: wrapped packages tied with tiny strings. Whether dolls or games or books, each child received a gift. Not much, but enough to make them feel loved. One volunteer even set up a movie in the gym each Christmas, a big ordeal for the time. Staff made sure every child had a chance to experience the magic of Christmas.

This year, Selke says, her Christmas festivities at Parkway Place will be just as magical. She’s already enjoyed the musical productions and special Christmas meals hosted by the Parkway Place staff.

“It’s amazing to be here at Parkway Place and see the continuation of Buckner traditions,” Selke said. “We still have the traditions of the Christmas message and music. I haven’t been here long yet, but I love it already.”

Selke said she’s grateful to Dr. Robert Cook “Father” Buckner, who founded Buckner Orphans’ Home, later Buckner Children’s Home, in 1879. Buckner eventually grew the ministry to further serve the needs of vulnerable children and senior adults, and today Buckner International operates ministries across Texas and in seven different countries across the globe. The organization, Selke said, has had tremendous impact on her life.

“I never knew him, but I’m immeasurably grateful for all he did,” Selke said. “I never thought I’d be back at Buckner, but it touches my heart to be here. I look forward to my future at Parkway Place.”

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