At age 90, Florence woman still delivers Meals on Wheels

When Lenora Graham of Florence was 65, she was one of the first volunteers to deliver Meals on Wheels to people who were confined to their homes.

Some might think that 25 years later, Graham would be one of the recipients of the Meals on Wheels program. But at 90, she continues to volunteer every Wednesday.

?A lot of times I have done two or three days a week, but now I am down to one day,? she said. ?Ed Robinson and Dale Miller do the other days between them.?

Her once-a-week route begins with a drive to the Marion Senior Center, 10 miles north of Florence. By 11 a.m., her daughter-in-law, Theresa, one of center cooks, hands her three meals to deliver.

?I enjoy it and I feel like even though it?s only three people, they need it just as much as a lot of people,? she said.

Graham said her job isn?t limited to delivering meals.

?Many of these people we deliver to also want to be looked in on,? she said.

Sadly, many of the elderly she visits don?t have anyone else visiting them, so Meals on Wheels serves a dual purpose.

Graham said she would like to see more people taking advantage of the meals.

?There are more than 14 people, I think, who would take meals if we told them exactly how it is,? she said.

If someone wants a meal and can?t pay, Meals on Wheels will still deliver the meal.

?This is a government program and anyone can have a balanced meal,? she said.

Menus are available for people who might not be interested in a meal every day, but might see something that looks good to them on occasion.

Graham said she has encountered some difficult situations during her 25 years.

?One lady we took meals to got stuck in her bathtub and couldn?t get out all ?until we came,? she said.

Graham said it was a good feeling to know she was there to help. Otherwise, the woman may have gone days with nobody calling on her.

On one occasion, a resident had died at home.

People who receive the meals are grateful because somebody is looking in on them once a day for those five days.

Meals on Wheels doesn?t deliver on weekends, but Graham said she would be glad to check on someone if they asked.

As for ?chit chat,? Graham said she doesn?t talk long when she delivers meals because she doesn?t want the lunch to get cold.

As for herself, Graham still fixes her own meals at home, especially with the gas situation the way it is.

?I don?t get mileage for delivering meals, so I am totally on my own Wednesdays,? she said.

Graham knows that most of the people she delivers meals to are younger than she is. She?s also had her share of surgeries during her life.

?The last two surgeries were in my 80s and my doctor didn?t think I would live through them,? she said.

Graham knows not many people her age are still driving and with macular degeneration, she said the state has put restrictions on her driver?s license.

?(Driving to) Hillsboro and Marion is my limit.?

As for the ability to do as well as she has at this stage of life, Graham credits her family genes. Her younger brother, Ronald, is 85 and her older brother, Earl, is 91.

She said the times in which they were raised made her more resilient.

?I feel like I grew up when times were hard,? she said. ?We didn?t have a lot of candy or pop. We lived on a farm and during hard times, we did good with the good farm food.?

Local family roots

Graham was born and raised about four miles outside of Florence. She was married for 47 years to Charles Graham and they lived in Clements, a dwindling community situated a few miles northeast of Florence in Chase County.

?I was 19 when we married, and I have been a widow for a long time,? she said.

Graham?s father, Pete, and mother, Tina Williams, had 12 children. Graham and her husband adopted two children and owned an appliance store in Florence for more than 27 years.

Before taking on her volunteer job, Graham worked for John C. Slifer, a medical doctor who came to Florence in 1935.

After she and her husband adopted the boys, she didn?t work outside the home.

Though times have changed during her life, the Meals on Wheels has remained essentially the same, except that a lot more people were taking meals in the past.

She said the main reason for the program?s decline in Florence is the decrease in population.

?When I graduated from high school in Florence, we had 2,500 people living there,? she said. ?We had five doctors, three grocery stores, two drug stores, restaurants, cleaning establishments, couple of dentists and more.?

People began moving away as the oil in the area dried up. Florence also had the railroad, but it eventually moved to Newton. The community suffered a big blow when Florence schools were unified with Marion?s in the 1970s.

?That was the downfall,? she said.

Graham said she thinks volunteering is a good thing to do in retirement.

?It keeps you young, and besides, it makes you feel youthful and useful,? she said.

For her, the most important part of volunteering is having a special connection with the people to whom she delivers meals.

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