Sixty years of serving seniors

Carol Rapelje talks with Robert Haining at D.H.. Rapelje Lodge in Welland on Friday. Rapelje has been visiting seniors in long-term care homes for the last 60 years. – Dave Johnson, The Welland Tribune

Carol Rapelje has always been a people person.

From the age of three when she and her mother brought an elderly neighbour soup and became fast friends with her.

To today, where at age 84 she still volunteers a couple of days a week at D.H. Rapelje Lodge in Welland and Woodlands of Sunset in Pelham

“We have a long history of caring for and liking people,” said Rapelje, who marked 60 years of volunteering this year.

“My mother was a 15-year volunteer at the (original) Dorchester Manor in Niagara Falls.”

Her high school friend, and eventual husband, Doug, kept that volunteer spirit going as he brought her to the old Sunset Haven in Welland.

“Doug was county clerk and he used to take me on a date — that was his idea of a date — there,” said Rapelje in a boardroom at D.H. Rapelje Lodge, the long-term care facility named after her husband.

As they grew up, the couple’s children would also pay visits to the home and all became involved in some sort of community work.

“We made a lot of friends over the years.”

Before the long-term care facilities she volunteered at had auxiliaries, Rapelje said women in the neighbourhoods would help out with celebrations like birthdays.

And residents of the homes would always look forward to big celebrations like Christmas when farmers from Pelham would bring in a Christmas tree.

Rapelje is the only living charter member of the original auxiliary and said she’s seen a lot of changes over the past 60 years.

Today’s long-term care homes have more and better programming to keep residents engaged.

She remembers the days when both residents and staff could smoke in the homes and said the first tuck shop the auxiliary took over was run by a man who mainly sold tobacco products and penny candy.

Funds raised in the tuck shops today, she said, have been put into projects that benefit the residents.

While the programming, and the homes themselves, have improved over the years, Rapelje said there is no better thing for the residents than to have someone to talk to.

“I like to visit people in the homes and talk to them. It’s lovely to see their faces light up and smile,” she said, pointing out residents walking past and talking about who they were.

“I still enjoy it and do as much as I can. You can never do too much visiting.”

Rapelje credits, and thanks, the front line staff at Niagara Region’s facilities for taking care of residents and said they have a very tough job.

One thing she’d like to see is more young people, and people in general, involved in the homes.

“Very few people have a reason to come to a home until a relative needs care. All of sudden it becomes very important.”

Rapelje said she’ll continue to visit the homes and residents for as long as she can.

“I’m still trying to make a difference … I still love what I am doing and it’s still in me.”

“The things you do are because your heart is good and you want to make a difference. It’s about the legacy you leave behind and that you care for people.”

905-684-7251 | @DaveJTheTrib

Source: St. Catharines Standard