Oral History 08.2015: Cornelia Steele, Caring for the Elderly

This interview of Cornelia Steele by Chris Tranbarger took place on May 10, 1015.

T: Okay, I want to ask you a couple of questions. What inspired you to do the works you done and describe to me some of your work briefly?

S: Um, I love helping people and especially when it comes to children and seniors, I think they have, um, their kinda the ones who gets left out of the mix sometime, and so I focused most of my life on working with seniors or, uh even through my political career and all.[Brief pause] Uh, I guess one of my best fames to claim, or what I enjoy talking about is uh, working with Meals on Wheels, they access program there, and then I worked with nursing homes, and actually was honored to be nominated for the state of North Carolina for nursing home volunteer of the year, uh, and I actually won. Of course obviously wasn’t the biggest part, but I did win a trip to, um Myrtle Beach and they awarded me a certificate and all that.

T: That’s Awesome

S: But, uh, in the nursing home stuff, it was; I know, I had a little ole lady in one of the nursing homes, and she was, her name was Ms. Maggie and she was a hundred years old, and when she turned a hundred;I said; she had, had both legs amputated, and I said “Ms. Maggie” I said, “for a hundred you should have something special. What do you want, and she said “I’ve been here for year and I have never seen Raleigh and the legislature. So, I actually got together and called the legislature of that time, and we took them down to the um, we got two pickup trucks and two vans and uh, we took a group down to the State Legislative office, and they actually sat in legislation, and was actually honored and recognized and they ate with the legislators.

T: That’s so awesome!

S: They were like, just really so excited about it! We made other trips too, but that was one of the biggies, because I felt like I was doing something for a lady that had been, you know she was there, and she didn’t have any family, uh, and she, that’s what her special request was and that was really exciting for me! I, uh, use to have a lot of ice cream suppers for’em. I also, uh, got my dad to help me make books, song books. We went around to different nursing homes and asked the nursing home residents, what their favorite songs were, and so we went to different churches; we went to different churches. We went to like Methodist, Presbyterian, um, all, Baptist, all the different churches, an asked for hymn books, and we took and pulled out those songs that they liked and composed them with big gigantic writing on a computer, and, um made songs books for them, that they could read. Then we got volunteers to play piano for us, and we had gospels singings for them. We also had BINGO, I’d have donations, we’d play BINGO, and they’d win stuff. A lot, of times they loved to, like, I buy them baby dolls and stuff, and people would say “Why do buy baby dolls and stuffed animals for the residents?” It was because some of these residents had families, grandchildren to come and they never got to shop for’em. So this gave them a chance to win this prize and we would wrap it for them, and then they could give their granddaughter a birthday present and feel like they had earned it their self, and it was like, just a fun thing. I actually enjoyed it more than they did! Um, it was rewarding, very rewarding! As I said, the youth, Florence Critton and Services; I had one young lady, that um, she had a child and she um, was planning to give it up, and decided not to, it was born the day before Christmas, she had no family and, um, so I bought her a bunch of stuff, and went up to Critton and Services in Charlotte, and uh, we had this big celebration. For like three years afterwards she would bring her child by here to see me, and about five or six years ago; she walked up to my door one day and she said “I wanna take you out for a hotdog” she said “I just wanna thank you for” you know, could she said now I’m a nursing assistant, and “I’ve went to college,” this was a child that grew up in the Elon home for children. So, I felt like, you know, just being a part of her life, and uh, that it gave her an opportunity too, and then to find out that she actually worked in a nursing home, helping elderly people again, it was like, it recycled again. I was helping a youth to keep her child and then she turned around and got a job too, in a nursing home. So not only did I help a youth that, that was single a pregnant, and didn’t have a family, but also she turned around and helped seniors too. So, that, those are the kind of things, I feel like sometimes that, um, uh, elderly people, and children and animals. I’m a big animal lover! But you know, I feel like they get the raw deal sometimes!

T: Alright, great! Um, so, with the elderly care and stuff, uh, when did you know that you wanted to make a change; like, what inspired you; who inspired you; to, uh, to try to change things for the better and help people who couldn’t help themselves?

S: Um, I had been asked, first of all, to help with meals on wheels

T: Okay!

S: …and I started going in to the homes and some of these seniors, has, we were the only people they seen, at all. All the time!

T: Wow

S: So I would always try and take a little something to’em, if it wasn’t anything but a box of Kleenex, or a, um, hand lotion or something, and they would just hug me, and then I’d take them Christmas stuff. Then my mom got Alzheimer’s, and uh, Dementia, and she had to go into a nursing home and I had a couple of aunts. As I went into the nursing homes, I seen how those residents, especially dementia patients, they, sometimes regress, because they obviously regress, but they regress faster when you don’t keep their minds actives! So I seen they get real excited like children, when we would do things with’em, and we’d take’m, like in the Fall, I’d take’m and get a couple of vans, and I even had a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s and we bought a van, a handicap van. We raised enough money to buy a van, and um it, just meant so much to’em, just to go out and get an ice cream cone, and go out and look at the leaves change, and, um, just, uh, it was just so rewarding, it just kinda, after I realized how much, um, it was needed. I sort of, you know, I put churches, and some of my churches; some of the churches was involved in it. Not only churches, uh, I don’t wanna sound, [laughs] I guess derogatory, like when I’d have my fund raisers. I’d go to like, funeral homes and places of business and they’d buy like uh, uh, say we’d have a barbeque, and I say: “look I’m doing this for Alzheimer’s, these people will get a chance this way to go see things, and they will be able to pay. We took them one time to Greensboro to the Coliseum to see, ah, Holiday on Ice, um you know, they didn’t have the money, so, we would like, but you could sell people like that, they’d buy for like people that worked for’em, like twenty tickets. So you know, and we’d deliver, and so the more I did it, it was almost like a “snow ball” effect, it just uh, every time I did it I got more excited. So it just, uh and the people when I would get volunteers to help me they would say “Man, this awesome, I see what you’re talking about now!

T: Yeah

S: We’d be so tired, sometime at the end of the day, but it was so much fun, we were sitting around talking about how much fun we had…

T: Right!

S: …and the smile we saw on a little ole’lady’s face that nobody had ever seen before. A lot of these people, as I said were in wheelchairs and couldn’t get out at all and some of them, you know, were in walkers, but, uh, dementia patients , as I said, anything like that , the longer you can keep their minds active the better off you are and they love children, they love animals. We even set up a program where we got and made sure that the animals that we took over had all their shots and all. We even took not just dogs and cats but a lamb over there one time. They got to touch it, you know, so, it just kinda like incorporating and they love kids, we’d have Santa over there and we’d invite their grand kids, and we’d throw like a party for them, and they would get to see their grandkids talk to Santa. So, um, like I said children pets and animals! I’ve never seen a resident that didn’t like BINGO!

T: I know. I love BINGO!

S: So they would love the BINGO and of course I made my own cards, because the little BINGO cheap, the little cards so, we made big BINGO cards.

T: Okay.

S: I used the buttons with the flat side on one side. When we first started up, they didn’t have anything like that. I made my own BINGO cards and everything, so [laughter].

T: Well this brings us to near the end, I know that you did bring up you mother and father and I wanted to give you this opportunity to um, maybe make this interview in remembrance of your mother and father and if that’s okay; you could just maybe tell me your mother and father’s names, and we could do this in memory of them as well.

S: Oh, Yes, I’d love to do that that! My mom was Helen Steele, Helen May Steele and she was born and raised here in the big city of Alamance, and ah, that’s what we always called it. Of course, she said her dream was always meet a man from Graham and marry him and she met her dream because my dad was from Graham, he was what they called a ‘square-miler,’ he was born within a square mile of the court house and um. My dad still, I have many, many people that come to me, and you know, he’s been dead several years that say “Ah, you know your dad made such a change in my life.” I appreciate that you would let me recognize my mom and dad, because they were awesome people and they definitely made me who I am today.

T: Thank you so much, Ms. Steele for this opportunity to interview you and ask you some questions about your contributions, um to making a positive impact in our society. Now I’m gonna stop the recording!