She's 90, but too busy to slow down

Doug Boock
Mary Frances White displays a certificate she’s received for her contributions to Marigold Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, where she resides.

Ninety years into a full, active life, Mary Frances White doesn’t believe in slowing down much. She’s as active as active can be.

“Well honey, that’s what it’s all about. I’m not going to sit on my fanny and wait for people to wait on me,” the engaging Mrs. White said Oct. 3.

A former Galva resident now residing at Marigold Rehabilitation & Health Care Center in Galesburg, Mrs. White is still going strong after moving to Marigold four years ago.

In fact, she’s making a difference at the facility, doing lots of “little” things that make life more enjoyable for Marigold residents and visitors. Her efforts earned her a “Hero in Long Term Care” award from the Illinois Health Care Association earlier this year.

A magazine ad for Alleve, the pain medication, hangs in her room. It reads “Never, never stop moving.” It inspires her to keep active.

“I haven’t lived this 90 years for nothing, you know,” she said. “That’s my theory – get up and move – and I still do it.”

Her can-do attitude was forged as a youngster. She grew up when times were tough.

“I grew up in the dirty ’30s and World War 2, so you learned a lot,” she said of her work ethic. “Our whole family’s that way.”

At Marigold, she’s known as the facility’s “plant doctor,” because she takes care of a lot of plants there, including beautiful arrangements in the hallway outside her door. Residents and staff also take their sick plants to her so she can nurse them back to health.

“Oh, I have been known to do it, if they ask me,” she said. “I don’t advertise it too much, but I like to keep it nice in the hallway here.”

She’s also known for feeding bread to birds outside the facility, something she started after moving to Marigold. She noticed in her initial feedings that a fellow resident enjoyed watching the birds eat.

“I thought, well, why not throw some bread out there for her to watch? I’ve just kept up with it since,” she explained.

Twinkly-eyed with a ready smile, Mrs. White saves bread scraps, and residents who don’t want their bread also frequently request that it be given to her, the “bird lady.”

“I’m probably known by many other names, too, but I haven’t heard them,” she laughs.

She has a special relationship with Mindy, a dog which roams the facility and is loved by many. Mindy knows she can count on Mrs. White; she makes her way to Mrs. White’s room when she needs fresh water or wants to go outside.

“I do my share, when (Mindy) comes around and asks me, you know,” she said. “I save meat off the table nobody wants, and there’s times she’ll give me a look over her shoulder telling me she needs to go outdoors.”

Marigold officials say Mrs. White is known for helping peers and staff with activities, and for pushing other residents back to their rooms after meals. She also frequently stops by to offer words of encouragement to residents who aren’t feeling well, and invites others to come to social gatherings with her.

Mother of Rod White of Galva and Becky Gies of Evergreen, Colo., Mrs. White was married to husband Clifford for 41 years before his passing. She’s continued staying active since his death, though. She doesn’t plan to change, either.

“I don’t know how much longer,” she reasoned. “But then, it’s one of those things.

“I’ll wait until the good Lord’s ready for me; then that’s it.”