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Pa. woman brightens holidays for nursing home residents

December 17, 2005|By DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -

When she was a girl, Christmas was not a merry time of year, but Shirley Fahnestock has not let the ghosts of Christmases past keep her from brightening the holidays for the residents of Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

"It wasn't a loving home at all. It's a shame our childhood was wiped out," Fahnestock, 67, said on a recent Tuesday as she dropped off decorations, cards and gifts for residents of the nursing home.

Sister Janet Gardner said their large family at one time lived in a garage with a dirt floor and no plumbing before the children were placed in foster homes.

"My mother stood in line for many a year to get us a balloon from Santa" as a Christmas present, Gardner recalled.

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"All nine of us children have done something with our lives," said Fahnestock, who visits the home regularly to chat with the residents, particularly on holidays. "I dress up as a leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day."

"I started six years ago when I had a friend who was put out here, and she died four years ago," Fahnestock said.

Fahnestock continued to come back, becoming a regular at the home's Tuesday Coffee Club, talking with residents about recipes, grandchildren and life.

"I just like people and I like to talk," said Fahnestock, who wore shoes that lighted up as she walked.

Fahnestock remembered conversations with a woman in her 90s, a retired nurse who enjoyed talking about all the babies she had helped deliver.

"She's got the personality and the get up and go," Gardner said. "She's a gem and she's very giving."

On this day, Fahnestock was giving resident Julie Morrill a small lighted Christmas tree for her room. She also brought with her a snowman, cards, calendars, night lights and other small gifts to pass out to residents.

The gifts help personalize the residents' rooms, said Sabrina Wiley, the center's activities director.

On a more practical note, Fahnestock said she earlier had purchased dozens of pairs of socks on sale, knowing the people living in the center could use them.

"You get such a good feeling when you're out there with the people," Fahnestock said. "It makes you thankful for what you have, not what you don't have."

Sunday: Lisa Startzman of Hagerstown.

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