SIDNEY— They are former vegetable scrubbers and administrators, maintenance workers and nurses, housekeepers and marketing staff.
All of them, at one time or another, worked at the Dorothy Love Retirement Community. And more than 60 of them gathered Monday for their first-ever reunion. The luncheon at the American Legion Hall in Sidney was organized by Jo Ann Covelli, Aunilee Moore and Blanche Puckett, all of Sidney.
“Aunilee and I had talked about it for a couple of years,” Covelli said. “Blanche agreed to help. We got together and set a date.” The trio had the phone numbers of a few former co-workers. They made some calls and let word of mouth and a Sidney Daily News notice get the message out.
“It just kept growing,” Covelli said. “The person who came the farthest was Gerry Murphy, from the Dayton/Clayton area.”
Murphy, and her husband, Jerry, live in Englewood. She worked at Dorothy Love for seven years, starting as a floor nurse and then serving as assistant directress. She left in 1984 for a job at Mercy Sienna Woods in Dayton. The Murphys made the trip to Sidney for the reunion because, “it’s the people I love,” Gerry said.
Rick Hamilton, of Sidney, was in one of three generations of Hamiltons who were employed by Dorothy Love. He spent 12 years in the maintenance department.
“I started out mowing grass and ended up director of maintenance,” he said. The facility has its own waste treatment plant, in which a machine called a grinder processed the waste. Hamilton remembered a day when a full pair of false teeth found its way into the plant.
“Somebody’s false teeth got flushed down the toilet and they made it all the way to the grinder without breaking up,” he laughed.
The Hamiltons weren’t the only family with multiple generations of history at the facility.
Puckett’s son and daughter worked there, as did her sister, Juanita Branscum, of Sidney, and Branscum’s two daughters. Puckett was in the dietary and housekeeping departments for 40 years. Her son, Roger, worked in maintenance for 20 years. Branscum was there for 14 years.
“The worst thing that happened was they tore Russell Hall down,” Puckett said. Russell Hall was the original Dorothy Love building. It was demolished in 1992 to make way for a larger operation that now includes an apartment building, a community center, a dining room and a chapel.
“It was sentimental,” Branscum said of the older building.
“When you saw them bring in the wrecking ball, you thought, ‘Oh, no!’” Puckett said. Roger Puckett, of Jackson Center, had a different view. He remembered pipes freezing and bursting.
“We went into one room and the water was coming through the light fixture,” Branscum said. With all of its problems, the smaller building facilitated a sense a sense of family among its workers, they said.
“Because we saw everyone,” Puckett said. “But we were all excited about the new building.”
About a dozen people at the reunion had worked in Russell Hall. Among them was the oldest person at the reunion.
Leora John, of rural Sidney, is now 95. She had dished up salads and desserts in the dietary department from 1977 to 1981, when a need for back surgery forced her retirement.
“I liked the people I worked with,” she said. She had applied for the job after her neighbor saw a help-wanted ad in the Sidney Daily News.
Vernon Peacock, of Sidney, got hired because he was already on the Dorothy Love campus.
“I was working there, but not under their jurisdiction,” he said. “Two people asked me if I wanted a job.” He joined the maintenance crew and helped to put beds together for the new building. At the reunion, he visited with former human resources director Larry Donahue, of Sidney.
Donahue was at Dorothy Love from 1979 to 2009. He remembered a going to a Christmas party that wasn’t.
“We were debating when (it would be) and had changed the dates a couple of times,” he said. “So I go to the house where the party was going to be. The daughter was there. The parents were not at home. ‘Where is everyone?’ I asked. ‘The party was last night,’ the daughter said.”
Covelli and Moore distributed gift bags and door prizes to the attendees. The bags had been provided by Dorothy Love’s current administration. As the gift bags were eagerly opened, Covelli recounted a memory of her own. She was working as a potato peeler when the head cook didn’t show up for work one day, she said.
“(The cook) lived in an apartment at Dorothy Love,” she told the group. “When the administrator went to find out where she was, he discovered that she had moved out during the night. He came back and told me in his German accent, ‘You in charge.’” And she was head cook from then until her retirement.
Many such stories were shared across the tables as the former co-workers enjoyed lunch and a display of Dorothy Love memorabilia. It’s quite likely that this reunion, the first, will not be the last.