Avera Brady resident and staffer share friendship, ‘Ellen’ visitDorothy Shannon wasn’t sure what to expect when she went to Los Angeles for the first time earlier this month. After all, most 82-year-olds don’t travel halfway across the country to visit Hollywood.
By: Candy DenOuden, The Daily Republic
Dorothy Shannon wasn’t sure what to expect when she went to Los Angeles for the first time earlier this month. After all, most 82-year-olds don’t travel halfway across the country to visit Hollywood. But, then again, Dorothy isn’t most people.
A resident of Avera Brady Health and Rehab in Mitchell, Dorothy made fast friends with the building’s activity coordinator, Lisa Larson.
“Dorothy and I are a lot alike,” Lisa said. “We believe in giving and making people smile.” Dorothy agrees, calling Lisa her “adopted daughter,” laughing and joking with her easily.
“I think God had it planned,” she said of her and Lisa’s friendship. The two also share a love of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” aka “Ellen.” Lisa said she has been trying to get tickets to the show for four or five years. Then, she sent in a “boneless bananas” advertisement from a local grocery store, and it made Ellen laugh — which got Lisa free tickets. “Here I’d been sending all this stuff, when I should have just found something funny,” Lisa said.
There were four tickets, enough for Lisa, her two sisters, and Dorothy. Dorothy’s daughter, Colleen Maurer, and granddaughter, Molly, who live in Sioux Falls, also made the trip.
Those tickets got Dorothy into the audience, but not on the show like Lisa had hoped. Not yet, anyway.
“We’re working on that,” Lisa said. “I haven’t given up yet. I don’t give up very easily.”
The story Lisa hoped to tell revolves around Dorothy and her baking, and how even in a long-term care facility, Dorothy has continued to use her various skill sets to help others.
Part of Avera Brady’s mission, Lisa said, is to make Avera Brady feel like home — because it is. For Dorothy, that meant baking.
“My escape at home … was baking,” Dorothy said. She baked for her family, particularly around the holidays. Even once her two kids were grown, she didn’t quit baking.
“It was just her thing she’s always done,” Lisa said.
Dorothy became a resident of Avera Brady Health and Rehab about three years ago, shortly after Lisa started in the activities area. It wasn’t long before the two of them were baking together. One of the first things she made, she said was a double batch of buckeyes. She put them on the seat of her walker, and away she went.
“Then I would peddle them,” Dorothy said with a laugh. Selling them typically for something like a quarter, Lisa said eventually she and Dorothy teamed up to build a cookbook. Lisa copied Dorothy’s hand-written recipes and turned them into a cookbook, and sold 300 copies.
“And we’re still selling them,” she said. Through the money raised, Lisa and Dorothy were able to buy a new 52-inch flatscreen TV for the facility. “When you think about the money we raised, that’s a lot of baking,” Lisa said. Lisa said all the baking goes beyond keeping Dorothy active, or even helping the facility — it benefits all the other residents who come into contact with her.
“It’s not only that, it’s the smell,” Lisa said. “It smells like home.” Dorothy said she was drawn to Ellen’s show through the talk-show host’s unique story and demeanor. Though a noted comedienne, Lisa and Dorothy said Ellen’s own battles against public perception seem to have made her less likely to look at people as a punch line.
“She doesn’t make fun of people,” Lisa said. “I really admire her.”
Dorothy agreed. “She just seems like a very caring person,” she said. Caring is something that is important to Dorothy, who spent 50 years as a nurse in Mitchell. “In nursing, you give of yourself,” she said. “You have to meet (patients’) needs. It’s satisfying work.” Originally from Redfield, Dorothy said she got her first taste of nursing while working in a nursing home.
“I fell in love with the work,” she said. After that, she said she called to ask her mom if she could go into nurse’s training. “We’ll have to sell a hog,” to pay for it, her mom responded. So, they peddled the pork, and Dorothy went to nursing training. She graduated from the three-year program at the Methodist State Hospital, and then went on to work for that hospital for the next five decades. Dorothy remembers when she had to clean syringes, and thinking, “if they just had disposable needles.” Before long, she said they not only had disposable needles, but disposable syringes as well.
“Boy, we thought we were in heaven then,” she said. In 1987, Dorothy won the Norma Venables Award, a state-wide nursing award “in recognition of the many acts of kindness shown toward her patients, and co-workers at Methodist Hospital, Mitchell.”
“I was very proud of that,” she said. After spending so many years in the medical community, she said some of the doctors and nurses she worked with now come to Avera Brady Health and Rehab to help take care of her and her neighbors.
“Now when they come out here, it’s just like family,” she said.
Lisa said after all those years of taking care of others, Dorothy hasn’t stopped now. She still gives gifts to the other residents, reads to them, and pays special attention to her roommates. Between her baking and her friendship, Lisa said Dorothy has many fans.
“Any time I talk about Dorothy Shannon, a lot of people know her for her nursing skills and her baking,” she said.
Dorothy said her nursing experiences have helped her transition into Avera Brady, and have helped her relate to the other residents.
“It makes it easier. You learn how to care,” she said. “You can pick up on how people are feeling and learn how to respond to them.”
And, it helps having someone like Lisa there.
“Her and I are kind of …” Dorothy looks at Lisa, and her voice trails off as she laughs. Friends? Partners in crime? Baking buddies? Maybe a combination of all three.
“I’ve learned a lot from Dorothy, and not just about baking,” Lisa said. And while the two didn’t plan for any of this when they met three years ago, Dorothy said for her to be able to share her “Ellen” experience with her daughter, granddaughter and “adopted daughter” Lisa, she said, made everything just a little sweeter.
“It was very special,” she said. “God works in mysterious ways.” That’s why, when Lisa scored tickets to see Ellen, she knew she had to take Dorothy, who watches the show almost every day.
“I’ve watched her on TV. I thought, ‘Oh, it would be neat to see her,’ ” Dorothy said. “I could never have imagined.”
But travel is expensive, so Lisa undertook a popcorn ball fundraiser with the help of AmStar. She raised $1,000 to give to Dorothy’s family toward travel costs, which enabled Dorothy, her daughter and granddaughter to make the trip.
“I didn’t want this to be a burden on the family,” she said. Dorothy smiles as she recalls that even her son, Patrick, got involved; he took her shopping for a new outfit to wear to the show. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, according to Dorothy and Lisa, who left on Jan. 14, attended the taping on Jan. 15, and returned to South Dakota on Jan. 16.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Dorothy said. “It was just breathtaking.” She had never been to California before, and said everything from the plane ride to the restaurant selection in Los Angeles was a new and memorable experience.
“Once in a lifetime,” Dorothy said.
While there, they said Dorothy was treated with the utmost care and concern, which Dorothy attributed to “that walker.”
“They treated her like a celebrity,” Lisa said. To be seated for the taping, Lisa said Dorothy was unable to navigate the stairs, so she was taken across the stage (prior to Ellen being there) and in front of the audience. Lisa said Dorothy made the most of her time in the spotlight, smiling and waving at the other attendees as she made her way across.
“I will never forget the sparkle in her eyes, and the grin,” Lisa said. “That was priceless.” Dorothy didn’t get to meet Ellen, but, she did say hi to Tony Okungbowa, the DJ on the “Ellen” show. “He kept waving at her,” Lisa said. Though Ellen is noted for often encouraging audience participation, quite often through dancing, Dorothy and Lisa said they hit an episode with very little interaction. So, Dorothy didn’t dance. “She has practiced,” Lisa said. With only 300 people in the audience, Lisa said they were “right there” with the talk-show host and here guests. “She’s not very big,” Dorothy noted of Ellen.
The guests included Jennifer Lopez and 13-year-old Talia Castellano, who is battling cancer. Then they watched Ellen leave in her Porsche, and were able to visit with some of the crew.
While Lisa jokes that Dorothy was a “fuddy duddy” for not joining her and her sisters on a zip line, Dorothy is content with the chocolate chip cookie she had for breakfast at the café of the hotel where they stayed.
“I had to have my nap, you know,” Dorothy responded with a laugh.
Even though Dorothy and Lisa didn’t make it onto the TV as audience members, both of them maintain that it was the experience of a lifetime.
“She said to me so many times, ‘This is amazing,’ ” Lisa said of Dorothy. “It was an experience you just can’t even explain.”