It’s National Skilled Nursing Care Week (May 8-14)! We are spotlighting some of our VHS Residents at Virginia Health Services’ seven nursing and rehabilitation centers. Our team supports our Residents in living their best life as they age with us.
We appreciate their time and the time of their visiting families and friends who all were so open in telling their stories.
Coliseum Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Man about town
Curtis Cofield is a man about town —or at least about Coliseum Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The Newport News native uses his motorized chair to visit Residents and team members throughout the center in Hampton.
“I know everybody in here. Every day I can get out of bed, I make my rounds,” he says.
Curtis is a Vietnam War veteran and former bricklayer. He entered Coliseum about three years ago. He had a heart transplant following a massive heart attack in 2003.
“I ain’t stressing. (Not since then.) Not going to worry about it; the next time might kill me,” he says of staying calm and maintaining a routine at Coliseum.
Not only does he know the Residents and team members at Coliseum, he used to be married to a current Resident.
“My ex-wife is here too,” he says. “We’re friends. … We get along better now than when we were married!”
Curtis has a sister and one son who live nearby and visit. His other four children are “spread out across the country.”
He graduated from Phenix High School in Hampton, and lived in Hampton and Newport News most of his life. He worked as part of a bricklayer union for 29 years, “anywhere I could work.”
His father was a bricklayer and owned a business.
“The guys there taught me how to do it,” he said. “I enjoyed the work. It was a lot of fun.”
He has lost both legs by amputation since coming to Coliseum because of vascular and other issues. But being able to chat up folks around Coliseum helps him pass the day.
“I learned how to deal with it by keeping myself busy; keeping going,” he says.
She sits quietly near the same spot in the Coliseum dining room. She doesn’t like to miss the activities.
Isabel Santiago has been at Coliseum since June 2021. It’s closer to her daughter Mivia (Mimi), who visits her almost every day before going to work in the evenings. Isabel transferred there from VHS-owned Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center following rehab from a stroke. She lived with Mimi for five years before that.
“They’re keeping me busy,” Isabel says. “I do whatever they have.”
She originally is from Ponce, Puerto Rico. She first came to the U.S. when she was 14 years old in search of work to help support her family at home.
“This brave lady went to New York City at 14 by herself,” her daughter says proudly. “A cab driver checked to make sure the apartment she was going to was safe before letting her out of the cab.”
Isabel is the mother of eight. She has numerous grandchildren, and great- and great-great grandchildren.
She and her husband met while they lived in New York City. They were childhood sweethearts and were married for 52 years before her husband passed away from cancer in 2013.
“The neighborhood raises family,” Mimi said of growing up in the Bronx where everyone looked out for everyone else’s kids.
Isabel got her GED so she wouldn’t have to quit her jobs to go to school. She traveled between family in Puerto Rico and NYC. She was a social worker in New York City and helped mediate gang relations in schools.
“I enjoy relating to people,” she says.
Isabel also moved to where her children were, spending time in Texas and Florida before moving to Virginia to be closer to Mimi.
“I have friends in a lot of places,” she said, adding she really liked Texas.
She was a receptionist at a hospital in Texas, and in other health clinics. She retired at age 72.
Isabel says she is enjoying her time at Coliseum, and really likes the staff and the activity programs. She and her daughter are happy with the rehabilitation services.
“She’s doing really good here,” Mimi says.
James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Katherine Gatewood has been at James River Nursing and Rehabilitation Center “a long, long time,” she says, smiling. She can’t recall the date, but estimates it was around 2005.
She will be 100 years old on May 14, which she greets with a shrug.
“If I were able to go out, be more active, I’d enjoy (turning 100) more,” she says.
Katherine says she is hopes her family is able to visit for the milestone.
She was joined for our interview by her therapist Mavis, who says they do “talk therapy.”
They have been working together for about a year and a half, Mavis said.
Katherine says she was born and raised in Newport News, and a bit of a homebody in that she didn’t travel much. But she did have an active social life, she says.
She worked as a telephone operator and bookkeeper—“nothing to brag about,” she says with a shrug — and says her greatest accomplishment was raising her children.
“Raising children was the most fun, watching them grow and mature,” she says.
One son and his family live in Wilmington, N.C., and another is in Virginia Beach. He comes to visit weekly and does her laundry. Both sons call every day.
They help keep her abreast of the family, which includes one grandson and two great-granddaughters who are in college and have studied abroad in France and Italy.
Her room at James River is homey, with lots of family photos on the walls. Her sons “made the room feel like home. Guess they figured I’d be here a while,” she says with a chuckle.
Katherine’s father was a college professor and her mother stayed home to raise her. She was an only child.
Her family was the first to have a refrigerator on their block and the neighbors would come by to look at it, she says.
While she can’t recall how long she was married, she was widowed young. Her husband died at age 53. She never remarried because she says, “he was my soulmate. He was a good man.”
She developed many friendships over the years, including several friends from St. Vincent’s Catholic Church. They keep in touch now more by phone because of various health issues — “I might be in the best shape of all them,” she says.
Kind word for all
Sandra Jordan has been at James River for 12 years. She recently lost her only son, and there’s little family remaining.
The team at James River “look out for me and help me,” she says. She uses a wheelchair.
Sandra was from New York, and moved to the area first to attend Hampton University. In her first year, she met and married her husband.
“I just stayed after that,” she says.
They divorced when their son turned 18, she says, but remained friends.
“I’ve been single ever since.”
She worked as a kitchen supervisor at Sentara for 15 years and Riverside for 10 years, so “I’m particular about the food,” she says.
Sandra believes in giving a kind word to all. She tries to help her roommate when she can.
She enjoys the daily activity programs. Sandra says she enjoys bingo and the live music the most.
“It’s one day at a time,” she says.
Lancashire Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
‘The therapists are wonderful’
Aldrema McMillan has her sights set on the future—when she can leave Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center fully or partially recovered. And she knows the care she is receiving at Lancashire will get her there.
“I appreciate the therapists here,” she says. “They really worked with me to recover. Whether it’s a partial or complete recovery, I’m (hopefully) going home.”
Aldrema is recovering from a fall in which she injured her neck. She moved into Lancashire in August 2021, and hopes by this August, she will move home.
“I do like it here,” she says. She has a private room and enjoys the activities programs. She also likes having a bird feeder out of her window.
“The therapists are wonderful,” she says. Aldrema is working with occupational and physical therapists in her recovery.
She is originally from Lancaster County. While she has detoured to New York City, northern Virginia and the Peninsula, she returned to her home county for her rehab.
Aldrema left for NYC after high school.
“The journey to New York is the ultimate challenge,” she said. “If you can live there, you can live anywhere.”
It was there she met her husband, who worked for TWA and then American Airlines at airports in the Mid-Atlantic. They lived on Long Island, and she took the train into Manhattan for her job as an underwriter for New York Life Insurance.
They married in 1972 and had four children.
Her husband, who passed away in 2009, worked at JFK for 20 years before being transferred to various other airports. When she moved to the Peninsula, he remained in northern Virginia most of the time because of his work schedule.
She has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, most of whom live on the Peninsula and come to visit.
“All a nice bunch. I enjoy them,” she says of her family.
She worked as a dispatcher for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department, earning awards and recognition. She retired in 2013.
“I was trying to enjoy (retirement) gracefully,” she says, until her fall. “Everything is coming back except the walking.”
Aldrema continues to work with the rehab team at Lancashire on her recovery. She’s an advocate for herself and other Residents, never hesitating to speak up.
“No sense in keeping quiet,” she says with a smile.
Mildred Clark has called Lancashire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center home for the past six years. She knows she needs the extra care the team provides, and it allows her to be close to her daughter.
“I like here,” she says. “I’ve been satisfied.”
You can usually find her coloring in her room. The pages are intricate, full of detail, and Mildred’s hand moves steadily inside the lines with fine-point colored pencils.
Before she moved to Lancashire, she said she hadn’t colored since she was a little girl. Her daughter gave her a book and she took off from there. She gives away many of her pages to family and others. Some are framed and displayed in her room.
“It’s really relaxing,” she says. “Takes your mind off of everything.”
It also, along with medication, helped her keep control in her hands from the Parkinson’s disease. She also has COPD and uses oxygen regularly.
Her coloring group at Lancashire doesn’t meet as often as it used to since the pandemic, when movement was more restricted to stop the spread of the virus. But she does get more visitors, including a 3-year-old great-granddaughter she met in person for the first time recently.
“She took right to me,” Mildred says, patting the chair, “and came right up here to color with me.”
Mildred lived in Richmond and has three children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her oldest daughter lives in Lancaster County.
She worked for a printing company in Richmond.
“It was hard work,” she says, “It’s physically hard on your body.”
After 14 years there, she retired at age 62 when social security kicked in. She moved in with her oldest daughter about 10 years ago following her divorce, then lived independently until she was in and out of the hospital too often.
“I’ve never lived outside Virginia,” Mildred says. “… I’m not a traveling woman, I don’t think.”
Northampton Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
From Civil Service to model
Marie Collins sits tall in her wheelchair, comfortable dressed with long necklaces and earrings.
She’s proud of her independence, like getting herself out of bed, showered and dressed, and making the bed to start her day at Northampton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
Marie will be 98 in August, and her goal is to use the walker to get to her door without needing her therapist to follow behind her with her wheelchair should her legs give out.
She has been a Resident at Northampton since February 2020, and moved from the skilled unit to a single room last August. She’s comfortable, happy with the team members and rehab therapists, and pleased to not have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning her space (though she does keep it tidy and dusts).
“I’m an active Resident,” she says. “I love it here. I like the nurses. What more could we want?”
She has even acquiesced to play Bingo, which she says she didn’t enjoy before coming to Northampton.
Marie says it’s been difficult to outlive her friends. But, “here is where my life is now. But I just have acquaintances.”
She spent nearly 45 years of her life as a secretary, and then another 20 as a senior model in several campaigns and with community fashion shows. She spent much of her career in the U.S. Civil Service, retiring in 1986.
Her husband Jim was transferred to Ramstein Air Base in Germany after they met in Texas. She eventually traveled there and they were wed in Germany in 1956. Eventually, he was transferred back to Texas.
She tried to find a job, but was turned away because “you’re an Air Force wife. As soon as I train you, you’ll have to leave. So, I showed them. I joined the Civil Service.”
They were transferred to Hampton, and she took a job at Langley Air Force Base. The couple spent two years in Istanbul, Turkey.
“I loved it, but my husband didn’t. He was in JAG, working with the local police,” she says.
They returned stateside in 1968. Jim had two heart attacks. He was discharged from the Air Force, and the couple returned to Virginia.
Even after he passed in 1970, Marie stayed in Hampton. She spent the last 18 years of her Civil Service career at Langley.
“I never went back to Pennsylvania,” she says.
When her parents passed, she sold her half of the family farm in Hesston, Pennsylvania, back to her sister. Marie’s nephew and his wife live there now, and visit about once a month when she goes to the doctor. They’re her remaining living family.
“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it.”Northampton Resident Marie Collins
In 1994, she sold the Hampton house. She moved into an apartment, and then to smaller apartment on the first floor in 2012.
Through her involvement with the NARFE, she became president of the local chapter, which at one point had nearly 1,000 members (“there’s a lot of retired federal workers here.”)
Her right knee started giving her trouble at 95. “Mother Nature decided it was time to slow me down.”
She wasn’t interested in getting a knee replacement at that age. After a bout with COVID, she moved into Northampton. It’s home now.
“If you’re going to live here, you’re going to make the most of it,” she said of decorating her single room as comfortable as possible.
The Newport Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Hampton “Vince” Snidow, 82, has been a Resident of The Newport for about four years. His health prevents him from moving or speaking very much some days, but you can tell by the smile on his face when he hears his wife, Nancy, speak, he’s engaged.
Vince and Nancy married July 21, 1979, and she is still by his side daily. She visits twice a day at meal times, living nearby around Christopher Newport University.
The Snidows have been “community oriented all these years,” actively participating in their churches (North Riverside Baptist and Hidenwood Presbyterian), and with organizations such as Salvation Army, Virginia Living Museum, Peninsula Rescue Mission and Menchville House.
Vince Snidow came to the area after spending three years in the Army, and then the reserves. He worked at the Newport News shipyard for 50 years as a mechanical engineer, retiring in 2011. He worked on several projects, including submarines and aircraft carriers, but also liked working on the commercial projects.
Nancy says they attended several christenings, happily remembering meeting Susan Ford during the keel laying for the carrier named after her father.
The christenings were always “very exciting,” Nancy says, “and it was just funny when they couldn’t break the bottle.”
Vince is originally from Kentucky, and has a sister named Virginia (though she lives in Kentucky). He is a Hokie through and through, sporting a Virginia Tech jersey during a recent visit. He was in the Corps at the school, and remains close friends with fellow VT Corps members.
“He keeps the postal service in business,” Nancy says of his room full of cards and tokens from friends and family, and the children from church.
Church friends and his friends from the Army and VT Corps visit when they can, Nancy says.
“Church friends have been supportive of us and kept us going,” she says.
When Nancy visits, she says she tries to stimulate Vince by playing music.
“He still remembers … he likes John Denver, Elvis, classical, bluegrass, hymns,” she says, sorting through a drawer next to his bed of CDs he’s been sent from friends.
Nancy says she and Vince love the outdoors, and they walked the Noland Trail regularly when he was well enough and volunteered to clear it on Earth Day each year.
Their charity work is focused on helping children “improve their lives,” Nancy says. Vince has a rare blood type and he donated his blood, which was used in research to help premature children and cancer patients.
“A lot of children are probably living today who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for those donations,” she says. His gift to immunodeficient patients was outlined in a Daily Press article in 2003.
The Snidows enjoyed traveling, visiting the provinces of Canada and several National Parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Vince also is a big baseball fan, and roots for the Reds. They traveled to see games in as many stadiums as possible, Nancy says, including Fenway Park in Boston.
“It was exciting to see the Green Monster.”
After his retirement, Vince started to show signs of Parkinson’s, which prevented the Snidows from traveling as much as they thought they would.
The team at The Newport has become family to the Snidows, Nancy says.
Walter Reed Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
You can tell he’s spent a majority of his time outdoors by his weathered hands and ballcap.
A former farmer and volunteer firefighter from Deltaville in Middlesex County, Carl Vaughan tends to the courtyard at Walter Reed Nursing and Rehabilitation Center almost daily.
“I do it to get outside. I’ve always been an outdoors guy,” he says.
Carl plans his garden at Walter Reed with the help of activity director Julie Boothe. They look over catalogs and she orders his seeds and supplies. The community also provides donations for the courtyard garden.
He started keeping up with the Walter Reed garden around the time of the pandemic in mid-2020. The Master Gardeners of Gloucester weren’t able to come when visitation was closed, and Carl assumed the caretaking role.
He told Julie, though, “I’m planting vegetables, not flowers.”
There are still flowers in the courtyard, but there are lots of other plants as well. Carl has planted peas, patio corn, radishes, cucumbers, lettuces, green peppers, three varieties of squash, and five types of tomatoes.
Why so many? He really enjoys a good tomato sandwich.
Carl rakes the courtyard, waters and manages the greenhouse.
He also lays net over the corn to keep the crows and other birds away.
Carl and Julie plan to experiment with other lettuces in the fall, such as kale.
York Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
Soprano & Mathematician
Virginia Wilkinson was a mathematician and a singer. She reads and does crossword puzzles daily. And she’s 105 years old.
Virginia Wilkinson is originally from Portsmouth. She’s called a lot of places home, including York Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She enjoys talking with activity director Mary Garrity and appreciates the nursing staff.
“I don’t have to shop for groceries or cook here. What’s not to like?” she says.
Virginia recalls her youth fondly.
“I had a very happy childhood,” she says. “People always say only children are spoiled, but my parents taught me how to share.”
Her father lost his business during the Great Depression, which she said ended her chance to go to college.
Instead, Virginia worked for NACA —“that’s N.A.C.A., before it was NASA, N.A.S.A.,” she explains —in Hampton and did long division.
“I’ve never done long division like that again,” she said.
She was the lead soprano at Episcopal Church in Portsmouth for eight years.
Virginia was married for 62 years, and her husband worked for Seaboard Air Line Railroad in Norfolk. They were transferred to Richmond, which is where she mostly raised her son.
There are three grandsons, five great-grandsons, and two great-granddaughters. The family is far-flung to places including Norway and Texas, though her son at age 75 lives in Gloucester, within driving distance of York.
She says she enjoyed living in Richmond very much, especially the parties and other railway gatherings she attended with her husband.
“I had a wonderful time meeting all those people,” she says. “I’m a people person … I like to be with people.”
Virginia also enjoyed traveling. Following one business trip, she says her husband came home from a business trip and said, “I’m buying a new car, and you and I are going cross country.”
They traveled to the Pacific Northwest, and from the far-away look in her eye, it’s clear she enjoyed the trip. “It was a wonderful time, just wonderful.”
She reads as much as she can, currently starting a compilation of stories from Jan Karon.
Virginia was paired with roommate Joyce Tracy, who Mary refers to as a “social butterfly.”
Joyce Tracy is 87 years old, and says she’s had two strokes, which prompted her move to York. But she’s very comfortable getting around in her wheelchair, and visiting various team members and fellow Residents.
“I just do silly things,” she says. “I try to put a smile on peoples’ faces.
“I go down the hall and everyone knows my name. … I’ve decided life is too short to worry about being silly.”
Joyce spent 37 years working for NASA Langley in Hampton. She worked in the special documents department of the technical library. Her eyes sparkle a little as she remembers how she needed security clearance to deal with the documents in her care.
She also was a florist, and was able to travel many times while with FTD. She worked there “on and off, between having children.”
Joyce has two daughters who she says help take care of her and four grandchildren.
She is “a Bull Island girl,” from Poquoson.
Her husband was enlisted in the military after high school — “it was the only two years I didn’t live on the Peninsula” — before they returned and he worked in design at the Newport News shipyard.
Joyce retired in 2002. “I’m very fortunate to be as well as I am,” she says.
“This is nice,” she says of York. Her daughters also refer friends and family members looking for a nursing home to York. It’s clean, a great team. The best company (hand gesturing all around).
Virginia is the “perfect” roommate.
“I love everybody,” Joyce said. “Have good fun, that’s what life should be”