Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 31, 2013

On a recent Wednesday at Trinity Oaks health and rehab (formerly the Lutheran Home), resident Cindy Rentz heard Prudy Taylor’s booming voice – probably the biggest voice you’ll ever hear from such a petite woman – from all the way down the hall.
“Prudy’s here!” she said excitedly. “Prudy!”
When Prudy is in the house, people know it.
Every Wednesday, she leads “Prudycize,” a session that seeks to enhance the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health of residents.
Prudy knows the home well. Her brother Charles lived there for four years, and her mother, Madeline Goodman, spent her final years there as well.
Prudy is a big fan of the home, which is why she’s one of its most faithful volunteers, leading Prudycize in her inimitable way for about four years now. She loves to see her regulars, who are immediately ushered into what she calls the “circle of love” in the activities room. Some residents sit in chairs; most are in wheelchairs. “Let’s go on lockdown,” Taylor says, making a circuit to check that everyone’s chair is stable.
Everybody gets a big Prudy hug and an “I love you.”
Mary, a newcomer, isn’t so sure she wants a hug or even a handshake, so Prudy goes on around the room, greeting and hugging the others, sometimes using fond nicknames like “Mawmaw” and “Smartypants” – the usual Prudy treatment. By the time the session is over and Prudy is sending people off with a second hug, Mary’s guardedness has melted completely. Beaming, she hugs Prudy tightly.
Prudy is kind of like the sun. If you’ve had a cloudy day before she shows up, the bright light of her attention can be little disorienting. But soon, you’re basking happily in the warmth and brilliance.
“She makes every resident feel important and that she is there for just that person,” said Brenda Zimmerman, activities director. “Her weekly program is another very special element in our ability to strive for the ‘abundant life’ we want to see our residents experience every day.”
Prudy passes around soft orange balls that will be used in exercising. “Why are these orange?” she quizzes participants.
“Clemson!” somebody shouts. Everybody knows Prudy is a diehard Clemson fan.
Prudy leads residents through one exercise that requires them to squeeze the ball between their legs “like a pancake.” That leads Randy to share his plans to eat pancakes at an upcoming Kiwanis fundraiser, and a conversation about that followed – because socializing is a big part of Prudycizing.
Shortly after the session starts, Joe Saleeby rolls in in a wheelchair to join the group. “Mr. Saleeby, even though you’re late, I’ll let you in,” Prudy shouts. “Because I love you!”
“About time he gets here,” says Leon Williams, a Prudycize regular who often attends the home’s annual Harvest Moon Ball with Prudy on his arm. “Join the crowd,” someone else says. Saleeby smiles at the greetings.
“This isn’t a crowd; this is a family,” he says. Prudy tells the group a story about how she and her brother Franco Goodman would get hot dogs from Saleeby’s store when they were children. “They made the best hot dogs ever!” she said.
“Prudy has a God-given gift to be able to share her life and experiences with the residents in a way that makes them feel like they are her family,” says Bill Johnson, the home’s administrator.
For about a year, little Lillie Edwards, the daughter of Prudy’s nephew Tripp Edwards, was part of that family, coming with Prudy every Wednesday. Lillie died in January of a heart condition, and residents miss the hugs she gave them – something she became comfortable doing by watching Prudy.
Much of Prudycize is devoted to mental alertness. Prudy travels around the room, asking questions and joking with residents. Name four things you’d find in a kitchen, she says. Name four flavors of ice cream. Prudy jogs memories if they need jogging. She asks one woman to name four comedians, which leads Prudy to remember how once at Clemson she and her husband, Charles, saw Bob Hope and Bear Bryant at a Holiday Inn.
Prudy knows the participants’ mental and physical abilities, Johnson says, and puts them at their comfort level.
Residents work hard to catch the big ball Prudy bounces to them after they finish the mental challenges she offers. “Why would you make an old human do that?” asks one good-naturedly.
“So you can grow old with some flexibility,” Prudy says.
“Well, thank you,” the woman replies.
After an hour or so of physical and mental exercises, Prudy serves apple juice and miniature quiches she’s brought. Then it’s time for a devotional session. The message? It’s good to pay attention to the way we live our lives.
Prudycize is one way Prudy pays attention – and it’s a way for her show her gratitude to Trinity Oaks health and rehab for the tender care they gave her brother, who had Down syndrome.
“I could never give back what they gave Charles in his last four years,” she say. “They were so caring. It’s a wonderful feeling to know he was in such a loving, safe place. He really flourished while he was here, more than he did in the group homes.”
The staff there has always made her feel like family. “They were just so open and wonderful, it warmed my heart,” Prudy says. From the administrator to the laundry and kitchen staff, Taylor says she was always impressed by how people handled their jobs.
In years past, Prudy worked at Knox Middle School as a reading tutor and an in-school suspension teacher and was a popular substitute teacher at Salisbury High School and other schools. Before that, she served as a hospice volunteer. In whatever she does, Prudy joyfully connects with people and brings out the best in them.
“I get such pleasure out of this,” she said of her weekly visits to Trinity Oaks. “It’s the highlight of my week.”

Katie Scarvey is a communications specialist for Lutheran Services Carolinas.