Adorned in fancy dresses, sequins, and fine jewelry, with red rose boutonnieres wrapped around wrists and corsages pinned to lapels, each senior waited eagerly and patiently for a special law enforcement officer escort into Wednesday's special “prom.”
The eve of Valentine's Day was one to remember for residents of Royal Care Senior Care in Summerville. Some used walkers and canes; others bound to wheelchairs required assistance to-and-from the dinner table and dance floor—but all faces reflected a smile.
"For us to come out...I think it means a lot to them," said Cpl. Anthony Tomlinson, with Summerville Police Department.
Serenaded by the classic sounds of Frank Sinatra and Elvis, the event grew livelier, and more feet started tapping when the speakers played “Cupid Shuffle”—Summerville police and Dorchester County sheriff’s deputies leading the line dance for staff, seniors and their family members.
Deputy Rob Cass couldn’t hide his happy tears when reflecting on his present experience. The former ballroom dancer turned heads with his energetic moves, taking turns to sweep different seniors off their feet. His dance partners reminded him of the age of some of his past career’s clientele, and for a moment his two top talents and passions—dancing and serving people—blissfully united.
“To me, it’s the best generation,” Cass said. “I appreciate them so much.”
With a mom and brother who were also cops, Cass explained how it was only natural to also enter the policing field, though he laughed at how he made the decision a little later in life.
“It’s the cliché—I wanted to help people,” he said.
Sheriff’s office Capt. John Smith echoed his co-worker, expressing his gratitude in getting to mingle Wednesday with members of “one of the greatest generations that’s ever lived.”
“The people here are part of the World War II era,” Smith said. "This is wonderful. It's just nice to give back to the seniors in our community."
According to Ashley Wrye, the facility’s activities director, staff believes it’s vital to help residents make the most of each day, even if they need some nudging at times.
“A lot of them said they wouldn’t get out of their beds until I said, ‘You have a date,’” Wrye said of the first-responder surprise.
Summerville firefighters were also invited, but many unable to attend due to work schedules, staff said.
Like Pfc. Cass, former pre-school owner Wrye opted for a career change after enjoying caring for a senior relative with Alzheimer’s. She said she moved to the area specifically to be close to her grandmother, Rosemary Sutton, a well-known name in the community. When the opportunity to do similar work at Royal Oaks became available, Wrye knew it was her calling.
“Each one of them feels like a relative to me,” she said. “They’re my little family."
Inez Streuber, who lives in Hanahan, commended the facility staff for their creative events. She said she was thankful to discover, when she moved her mom Joyce Buck from a senior care center in Charleston to Royal Oaks about a year ago, that the local site better attended to its residents.
“It’s awesome,” Streuber said. “They’re always doing something.”
After cutting a rug, chatting about their golden years and dining with uniformed guests—some holding officers’ hands and offering spontaneous hugs and cheek kisses—the crowd cheered as they crowned their very own prom “king” and “queen.” Votes were tabulated and the winning white sashes, bouquets and royal titles were handed to residents Wade White—a former Dorchester deputy—and Lois Decuirs.
According to Heather Roodt, the center's marketing and sales director, the prom idea surfaced while brainstorming potential fun events for the love-focused February holiday. Missing the chance to attend her own prom back in the day, Roodt said she felt many residents might also have never experienced such an occasion, and needed to.
"Our seniors are still living, and we want to make their lives as happy as possible, and if we're not doing that then we're not doing our job," Roodt said.