Health & Medicine

Nursing home's daily visitor assists his wife and everyone else

Jack Sanders put a bib on his wife Esther before lunch was served on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 at Mayfair Manor nursing home on Tates Creek Rd., in Lexington, Ky.  Sander's put bibs on other residents who needed help also.  Jack Sanders visits his wife Esther at the nursing home every day. He not only helps his wife with tasks, he also assists other residents, particularly at lunchtime, when he assists with bibs, hand sanitizer, etc. Photo by David Perry | Staff
Jack Sanders put a bib on his wife Esther before lunch was served on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011 at Mayfair Manor nursing home on Tates Creek Rd., in Lexington, Ky. Sander's put bibs on other residents who needed help also. Jack Sanders visits his wife Esther at the nursing home every day. He not only helps his wife with tasks, he also assists other residents, particularly at lunchtime, when he assists with bibs, hand sanitizer, etc. Photo by David Perry | Staff ©2011

During lunchtime at Mayfair Manor, Jack Sanders makes his way around the nursing home's dining hall, placing bibs on tables or around people's necks and giving each diner a squirt of hand sanitizer.

It's a daily routine for him.

"I think washing hands has helped keep down communicable diseases," Sanders said.

If a resident in a wheelchair needs to be pushed back to his or her room after lunch, Sanders does that too.

"He's one of the ones I go to for help with activities," said Suzy Rupp, Mayfair Manor's quality of life/activities director. "He never says no."

But Sanders' main reason for being at Mayfair Manor from about 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. seven days a week is Esther, his wife of 63 years, who has been a resident of the nursing home for the past two years.

At lunchtime, he cuts up her food as he sits next to her wheelchair in the dining room and occasionally leans over to say something like, "Baby, are you all right?" while taking bites from his own lunch, brought from home. He goes with her to various activities at the nursing home, such as exercise and art classes. He plays music for her and reads the Bible to her in her room. He doesn't leave Mayfair Manor until he's sure her teeth have gotten their bedtime brushing.

"If you've ever been in a nursing home, aides are worked to death," Jack Sanders said earlier this month. "I'm here to take care of my wife."

A minor stroke, trouble with walking and dementia led Esther Sanders, now 92, to Mayfair Manor. The physical aspect of caring for her at home got to be too much, her husband said.

"You try picking up 130 pounds of Jello. It's not easy," said Sanders, who is 88.

His eyes turned from tearful to twinkling as the conversation turned from Esther Sanders' health to earlier years in the couple's life together, his wife's younger days in particular. She was sitting beside him in silence. Perhaps she was taking in some of the conversation.

Both are World War II Navy veterans. Esther DuBose Sanders was a nurse with the rank of lieutenant who spent most of her time in the military on the West Coast. Jack Sanders was a radio operator who served aboard the USS Leonis in the Pacific Theater. The two, both Georgia natives, met after the war in a chemistry class at the University of Georgia, he said.

Before that, Esther, just after graduating from high school at age 16, was an aide who waited on President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his getaway trips to Warm Springs, Ga. During the 1970s, while Jack worked as a Seagram distillery plant manager in Baltimore, she worked at the White House, opening and reading President Richard M. Nixon's mail.

"She would take him letters that she thought he would be interested in," Jack Sanders said. "He was very nice and very courteous to her."

Sanders said his wife's job netted the couple invitations to White House functions and box seats at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

"We've got some letters from Nixon," Sanders said.

Esther Sanders held other jobs, in nursing and in teaching, while her husband worked for Seagram in Louisville and Bardstown.

"She was an expert bridge player," Sanders said. "We played a lot of tennis together and bowled together."

The Sanders have two daughters and a son. They also have 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, with another on the way.

Jack Sanders laughed when the subject of the difference in his and his wife's ages came up in the conversation.

"I was 24 when we got married. I thought she was 26," he said. He didn't find out until she applied for Social Security benefits that she was even older than he thought, he said.

"I kidded her all the time that she lied to me. She said, 'I wanted a young man,'" he said.

Rupp, the activities director, said of Jack Sanders, "He's a very gracious, friendly, pleasant and involved family member."

"Without God's help, I couldn't do it," Sanders said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

  Comments