Can you imagine fostering 600 children? Here are 5 beautiful lives well-lived

Friday marks the 13th annual celebration of the photography exhibit Remember ME. Organized by the Maine Health Care Association, it features black-and-white photographs and biographies of people living in Maine nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The event will be held at the Augusta Civic Center.

After being nominated by the facilities, the association is highlighting the lives of 32 residents, ranging in age from 61 to 103.

Here are five of their inspiring stories, as they’ll appear in the exhibit.

Cordelia Wells

Lakewood Continuing Care Center, Waterville

Cordelia Wells.

Cordelia Faye Baer Wells, who prefers Faye, was born in Masontown, Pennsylvania on November 22, 1915, the youngest of six children. The first 38 years of her life were spent as a farmer. She was an active child, preferring to help on the dairy farm rather than help with the housework.

Faye was the only child with a passion for the land and animals. She learned all parts of farming life – fixing machinery, milking and processing, driving and operating machinery, caring for animals, planting and harvesting, driving the milk truck at 3:00 am during the war, and running a dairy bar.

To help make ends meet, she worked on the railroad watch towers. Faye rowed across the river and climbed the towers at night, with her flashlight and gun in hand, prepared to shoot the copperhead snakes that nestled in the rails.

Faye never knew in the pitch dark if she was rowing straight so she practiced rowing, using a blindfold, learning to listen to and feel the river.

Cordelia Wells | Photo by Dianne Chicoine

Cordelia Wells | Photo by Dianne Chicoine

As much as Faye loved the farm, she dreamed of being a doctor. She enrolled in pre-med at college, loving every minute. However, Faye loved one thing, or shall we say person, more: Warren Mack Wells. At age four, when he let her ride on the back of his red fire engine but not drive it, she decided she didn’t like him.

Over the years, there was a dramatic turnaround and Mack became the center of her life. Their love eclipsed everything. Faye gave up her dream of being a doctor in favor of being a good wife and mother.

Her mothers dying words to her brother were, “See that Faye gets the farm.The next morning, the family gathered in the lawyers office to make sure that didn’t happen. The downpayment Faye and Mack had made to her parents toward purchasing the farm was never recorded, which left them no recourse. Faye and Mack, their two children, a great dane named Fritz, and a canary piled into an old station wagon and drove off to seek their own fortune.

Later in life, Faye explained to her daughter that losing it all was for the best. It was, she explained, all about her dream. But since she and Mack were partners, it was time for him to find his dream and she would be there to work it with him.

Only once did anyone ever see her seek to till the soil again. She jumped up and down on the shovel to no avail because their house was built on ledge of the stone quarry, where Mack worked for his dream. She picked up the shovel and flung it as far as she could and never looked back.

Even with Alzheimer’s Disease today, she fondly remembers her days on the farm.

Dolores Oblenes

Springbrook Center, Westbrook

Delores Oblenes.

Dolores has been a resident at Springbrook for seven and a half years… first in the assisted living facility for five years and then transitioning to the nursing home dementia unit for the past two and a half years. Because Dolores is not able to communicate verbally, her brother Philip Terrano, and foster daughter Shiloh, have become her “voice” and share Dolores’ altruistic endeavors.

Dolores epitomizes the saying “young at heart” with her love of children, music and dancing. Up until one month ago when she contracted the flu and pneumonia and was hospitalized, Dolores had been the life of every music event at Springbrook -- swaying and dancing to the music and humming all the songs!

Dolores’ love of children has been lifelong. She adopted a daughter, Dolly, and became a foster mother for the state of Massachusetts approximately 40 years ago.

Oblenes, Delores today

Delores Oblenes | Wyndee Grosso Photography

Philip reports that for 20 years, Dolores cared for over 600 children in the Boston area, receiving a commendation from the State of Massachusetts for her efforts! She never turned a child away according to her foster daughter, Shiloh. She welcomed infants, toddlers, adolescents and teenagers into her home, providing each child with a structured environment, home cooked meals and a sense of family and belonging.

Shiloh remembers a time that Dolores cared for 15 teenagers at one time! One special memory that stands out for Shiloh is of Dolores dressing up as the Eater Bunny for the younger children. 

 

Edward Browne Jr.

Maine Veterans’ Homes, Machias

Edward Browne | Photo by Gary Guisinger

Edward Browne | Photo by Gary Guisinger

On June 25, 1919, Edward K. Browne, Jr. was born in New York City. Ed had three siblings and attended schools in New Jersey until graduating from Madison High School. Ed enjoyed stamp collecting, playing baseball, and football. His first job was at Courtesy Service Station.

During WWII, Ed was drafted into the Army in 1942. After training, he became ill with measles and later sprained his ankle. When his squadron was shipped overseas, he was unable to join them. Ed was transferred to the 8th Air Force 452 Group, where he was a gunner on a B-17. In May 1944, their aircraft was shot down over Frankfurt. He and the other nine members were imprisoned for ten months.

Ed earned the Air Medal, European Campaign Medal and was offered a Purple Heart, which he declined. When asked why, he said he was being humble and it didn’t seem necessary.

Edward Browne.

Edward Browne.

After the war, Ed moved to Alaska and married Ruby Green, a school teacher. The couple had two children, Kathleen and Samuel. After Ruby’s death, Ed remarried Margaret Nugent. They lived in Ketchikan, where Ed was a member of the Elks and Lions Clubs. Ed worked for the Bureau of Land Management, where he mapped soils for the northern region. He later worked in the lumber industry as a timber grader and scaler for over 30 years. The Nor’west Logging Company awarded Ed an achievement award as a highclimber in 1952.

Ed and Margaret moved to Maine in 1989 and eventually settled in Dennysville. They became very involved in the Congregational Church where Ed served as a trustee and greeter. He also served on the Dennysville Historical Society and as a Boys Scout Leader. He was widowed for a second time when Margaret passed away in 2003.

Ed began living at the Veterans Home in February 2014 where he enjoys gardening, reading, writing, watching wildlife, playing bingo, and exercising. When Ed came to the home, residents depended on staff to ensure their personal outgoing mail was sent. Ed was instrumental in changing this process by suggesting a centrally located mailbox for resident use.

In November 2014, Ed was the guest speaker at the annual Veterans Program at Machias Memorial High School where he shared his firsthand account of being a WWII veteran and prisoner of war. His moving story prompted a standing ovation from the 500 people in attendance. Earlier this year, Ed pronounced a slogan for the year, “Activate, don’t stagnate.” At 95, Ed continues to be a leader and motivator. He is known for his kindness and notes of encouragement to residents, staff, and community members.

Beatrice Chase

Portland Center for Assisted Living, Portland

Beatrice Chase.

Beatrice Chase.

Beatrice Chase was born in Litchfield, Maine in February 1915. She graduated from Litchfield Academy in 1933 and attended nursing school in Waterville. She married in 1935 and has three children. Bea worked as an LPN in local nursing homes and eventually became a Director of Nursing. Throughout her life, she has been an advocate for practical nursing.

Beatrice Chase | Wyndee Grosso Photography

Beatrice Chase | Wyndee Grosso Photography

As a member of the National Federation of Licensed Practical Nurses, she helped launch the Maine LPN Association in 1954 and was a loyal supporter at both levels for 50 years.

Her peers say that Bea was so much fun to be with at meetings, but serious enough to share her concerns regarding nursing issues. Bea has served as LPN Association President at the local, regional and state level many times. She attended all but two national conventions, many times as a delegate, as well as the State Presidents dinner many times representing Maine.

Her dedication to this level of nursing motivated her to be a spokesperson on many occasions. It was her desire and goal to have practical nursing recognized and strengthened in the field of nursing and she worked tirelessly toward this end for 50 years.

When not working toward this goal, Bea was a Girl Scout leader and baked wedding cakes out of her home. Bea has grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Today at Portland Center for Assisted Living, she enjoys chorus, playing keyboard and exercise.

Thomas Pick

Seventy-Five State Street, Portland

Thomas Pick.

Thomas Pick.

A story of survival and success, Thomas Pick was born in Hungary in 1925 to an Austrian/Catholic mother and a Hungarian/Jewish father. Tom’s father owned and operated the successful Pick Salami Company, still in operation today. Tom led a privileged and comfortable life until the age of 18.

While attending the University of Budapest, German troops occupied Hungary and began deporting Jews, mainly to Auschwitz where most of them perished, his uncle, Moric, among them. The rest of the family survived.

His father went into hiding and his mother and sister went to live with relatives in Budapest. Meanwhile, Tom was called into labor service at a munitions depot. Upon learning that the workers were to be marched across the German border, he and two co-workers deserted. They found their way to Budapest via a Hungarian army truck with Nazi insignia. While riding, they saw long columns of Jews wearing Jewish stars being escorted toward the German Border. 

Tom survived in Budapest with false papers until Soviet troops occupied the city. He completed his studies and graduated from the University there, knowing that he would become a refugee from an increasingly communist regime. He attended the University of Zurich in Switzerland but without immigration status, he was forced to teach English on the black market to survive. Upon completing his studies in Applied Psychology, he was invited to go to Australia with an immigrant team. He continued his graduate studies there. While raising a family and working in poor paying jobs, he received his PhD.

Thomas Pick | Wyndee Grosso Photography

Thomas Pick | Wyndee Grosso Photography

Eventually, he and his family moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where he took a position at Old Dominion University while he simultaneously ran a private practice. In years to follow, he became chief psychologist for the Dept. of Mental Health in Massachusetts, continued in private practice and conducted workshops in the US and abroad.

Excited about political and cultural changes in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Dr. Pick was inspired to return to Hungary. During the Yugoslav Civil War, he worked to reconcile the bitterness. A major accomplishment was organizing an international conference on terrorism under the auspices of NATO, on the basis of which he edited a book entitled, “Homegrown Terrorism,” very much in demand today. He continued to work through his mid 80’s until suffering a serious back injury. He then came to Maine to be near his children.

Dr. Pick has been an inspiration to residents and staff at Seventy Five State Street where he is a steadfast member of thcommunity and his story of survival and success continues.

 

Erin Rhoda

About Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.