Wake County

Annual prom helps nursing home residents make special memories

Senior Citizens enjoy prom night at Litchford Falls Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Raleigh

See video of Janice Walton preparing for prom at Litchford Falls Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center Thursday, December 17, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.
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See video of Janice Walton preparing for prom at Litchford Falls Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center Thursday, December 17, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C.

When the band started playing the 1966 song “When A Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge, 74-year-old Janice Walton thought back to her younger days with her husband.

“We used to get down to this song,” Walton told her son, Michael. “We probably made a few children to this song.”

Thursday was prom night at the Litchford Falls Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in North Raleigh, and residents were happy to relive some of their fondest memories with family members and staff.

The dance, with a “Winter Wonderland” theme, had all the bells and whistles of a regular prom. Residents received corsages and boutonnieres before they entered the facility’s dining room, which was filled with balloons, tinsel, lights and fake snow.

“I had no idea it would be this gorgeous,” Walton said.

From their wheelchairs, residents clapped and sang along to the music. Nurses helped helped some get to their feet.

Later in the evening, the prom’s king and queen were chosen, their names selected randomly from a hat. This year, 72-year-old William Dean and 84-year-old Daisy Craft won the honors.

Craft had already called it a night and retreated to her room, so the staff brought her back to the festivities.

The health facility started hosting a dance five years ago when a donor gave $500, said Litchford Falls activity director Chris Stone. Residents enjoyed the experience so much that it became an annual event.

The prom has become a big deal for residents, Stone said. Seniors invite their families to attend and they spend much of their time on prom day getting ready. This year, residents lined up outside the dining room two hours before the dance began.

Brenda Purnell, Walton’s daughter, said her mother simply told her there would be a dance and she should plan to attend.

“I was curious to see exactly how they would pull it off,” Purnell said. “They did a wonderful job. It brings back (residents’) old memories and happy spirits.”

Previous proms at Litchford Falls have had themes of “Midnight Masquerade” and “Under the Sea.”

“For a lot of the residents, this is the last big memory they’ll have,” Stone said. Last year’s prom king and queen both died before this year’s event.

So it’s a reminder to the facility’s staff that continuing to make memories is important, said Aviva McLean, a restorative aide at Litchford.

The staff try to make the experience special. They collect used formal wear – who has their prom gown from 70 years ago? – and also bring jewelry and accessories.

“Sometimes there’s not that much to look forward to,” McLean said. “Residents know at least once a year, they can get dressed up and do something special.”

It’s always been a success.

“They’re nervous, like they’re going to the high school prom,” McLean said.

Walton, who grew up in Eastern North Carolina, attended her high school prom in the late 1950s. On Thursday, the Litchford Falls nurses adorned her with clip-on earrings and a tiara. They also took her to the in-house beauty salon to get her hair done.

It was much better than her high school prom, Walton said.

“I had more fun at this prom because I’m old and I can understand what it is to have fun,” she said.

Mechelle Hankerson: 919-829-4802, @mechelleh