Bellmead Apartments, the first housing unit established by Presbyterian SeniorCare in Washington, celebrated its 30th anniversary Friday, and one resident, Loa Owen, has been there every one of those years.
Owen, 68, was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. At the age of 5, her parents sent her to live at the Pittsburgh Home for Crippled Children, now called The Children’s Institute. Living away from her family was hard for Owen. Visiting hours for families were only one hour every Saturday and Sunday.
Each day, Owen woke up, dressed herself, went to breakfast and then on to school for one hour. She also went to physical therapy and occupational therapy. After lunch, she had more therapy until dinner. And after dinner, she had free time until 9 p.m., when she went to sleep. The next morning, her strict schedule began once again.
“(It) was very rigid,” Owen said as she sat in her mint-green dress and hot pink wheelchair before the celebration. The oldest of eight children, she didn’t get to see her siblings much, either. “My parents got special permission so I could hold (my) baby brother Terry,” she said. “I don’t remember getting to hold anyone but Terry.”
Owen said she did have some fun. Sometimes, the nurses made up excuses to have parties in the evenings, and the children might take a trip to a cabin or to watch horse races. At the age of 11, she was released and able to go home and live with her family on a farm in Avella. But Owen still felt a detachment.
“I was alone there, too.(My) brothers, sisters, Mom and Dad were off doing whatever,” she said. “(I did) my own exercising. The radio kept me company. I got to know all of the sixties songs.”
A teacher came to the Owen house twice a week while she was in grade school, but in high school, her father had to drive her back and forth to classes. When she was 17, her principal told her parents they didn’t know what to do with her and her wheelchair, so she had to quit school. Luckily, her grandparents stepped in and asked her to live with them in Florida. Owen loved it. “(It) was the best year of my life,” she said. “(I’ll) always remember being with my grandparents.” Instead of being stuck at home, she was able to go everywhere.
Owen knew sooner or later her family would move South, but she was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and that’s where she wanted to stay. When her mother heard about Bellmead, she knew she wanted to move there. “I want this, I want this bad,” she told her mother.
Owen moved into Bellmead at the age of 38, and now she’s lived in the senior apartment complex for 30 years. She got her GED diploma in her 40s, and started the monthly trip to Walmart from Bellmead. That way, she said, residents have an alternative way to buy groceries and clothing.
Owen hasn’t let her physical challenges stop her. Besides being the Bellmead trip coordinator, she also is a floor representative and volunteers at Washington Hospital two days a week, delivering mail to patients. She also knits items to give to nursing home patients and the needy through the Salvation Army and is one of the greeters at her Seventh Day Adventist Church, where she writes the monthly newsletter.
When the church came and asked her to do that, she wondered, “Who, me?”
“I’m showing people you can do it,” Owen continued. “It doesn’t matter what kind of situation. I want people to know a wheelchair (bound) person is capable.”
Bellmead Apartments celebrated its 30th anniversary Thursday, and its staff didn’t forget Owen. It’s tradition for a married woman to receive pearls on a 30th anniversary, so Owen was given a pearl bracelet in honor of her 30-year residency.
“People think if you’re in a wheelchair, you don’t have a mind,” said Bette Green, 92, and a 15-year Bellmead resident. Her friend, Nellie Snyder, 87 and a 16-year resident, added, “(Loa’s) very intelligent.”
Both Green and Snyder said Bellmead is a wonderful place to live, and their favorite activity is working at the store located on the grounds. Green is in the midst of retiring from the store, and Snyder works there two days a week.
Bellmead’s 30th year coincides with Presbyterian SeniorCare’s 85th year of operation.