Life: Nursing center in familiar territory for some | center, familiar, nursing : Gazette.com
Brenda Atwell can't escape her past or her future, nor does she want to.
As administrator of Good Samaritan, the only nursing home in Elbert County, her life entwines with those who choose to die near where they were born.
"Probably half of the residents I've known since I was a little girl," said Atwell, a native of nearby Calhan. "We're country folk."
Many Good Samaritan residents hail from the eastern plains of Colorado, including neighboring El Paso and Lincoln counties. Most didn't leave the region, unless it was to fight in World War II or go to college.
Once upon a time people grew old in or around the same town in which they grew up. Not anymore. According to the Census Bureau, the average American moves 11.7 times in a lifetime.
Schoolteacher Leona Eurich's big move was the 15 miles from the Calhan family farm her grandparents homesteaded to this nursing home, where she is surrounded by the familiar faces of residents, workers and visitors.
"I see many of my students," Eurich, 87, said.
"She was my sixth-grade teacher," Atwell said.
Eurich says it was her decision to leave the 520-acre farm three years ago for a room at the nursing home.
"I knew this was the place where I should be," she said. "People come to visit other relatives here and they drop in to see me. Lots of memories, lots of memories."
Her daughter lives on the farm, near the country cemetery where Eurich's husband was buried 15 years ago. "I have a spot out there, too," Eurich said.
She doesn't think she's missed out on anything by staying in one place.
"I'm satisfied with my life. I think it was good."
The nursing home in this population-600 town about 55 miles east of Colorado Springs originally was built as a hospital in the 1940s.
The problem wasn't a lack of patients.
"They just couldn't get doctors to stay out here," Atwell said.
It became Good Samaritan in 1958, and earlier this month there was a big party for the nursing home's 50th birthday.
"I've been here 28 years," Atwell said. "We have a lot of longevity of the staff."
Richard Churchwell had a dairy ranch a few miles from the facility when it was a hospital, where one of his five kids was born.
Now, the 91-year-old widower lives here. He spends much of his day under a red-white-and-blue lap blanket in a corner recliner by the window.
He left the county to go across the globe to fight on battleships in World War II, then he came right back to tend to his herds.
Dairy farming is what he'd still be doing, if he could. A back injury from tangling with an electric fence took him away from the ranch about two years ago and ultimately landed him here.
"Dad never complains," said son Everett, 63, who lives in Limon.
Like his dad, he's a Colorado-plains lifer.
But when he looks at his dad, propped comfortably in the corner of a nursing home, he doesn't see himself someday.
"I hope I die before I get to that point," the son said. "That's my perception of it."
Atwell agreed: "I don't wish this on anyone to have to come into a nursing home," the 53-year-old administrator said, "even though it has been my whole life to do this."
Family, community ties
When Eurich and Churchwell look out the windows of their rooms, a white picket fence frames the view across the street to a park where children play and a Methodist church where people dress up to worship.
They are connected to the kids and worshippers by roots as well as memories, even if fleeting at times.
George Sparks, 87, and his wife, Marie, 86, have the same view from their room, but without the connection. They have no attachment to the town, the county or this state where they'd never lived.
Until a few months ago, they lived in Tucson, Ariz., where George kept an apartment for months after Marie needed more care and had to go into an Arizona nursing home.
When George, a retired chaplain, started having memory problems, his son in Calhan moved them to the Simla nursing home.
They are the only married couple there.
Separating their twin beds are the matching chairs where they sit side-by-side. He holds her hand as she stares at the TV.
"It's good to be here with my baby," he said of his wife. "We're not dead. We can still love, read, walk."