Kris Wilkinson, 74, calls it “a God thing” that she became friends with Leona Dockham, who celebrated her 107th birthday in March.
Before Wilkinson moved to Episcopal Retirement Services’ Canterbury Court Affordable Living community in West Carrollton last June, she prayed for ways to help others.
After eating some birthday cake, Dockham called Wilkinson her best friend.
Dozens of Canterbury Court residents attended Dockham’s birthday celebration, including West Carrollton Police Chief Doug Woodard and Fire Chief Chris Barnett.
“One of the things I was praying about before I moved here was, ‘Where do you want me to serve?’” Wilkinson said. “So, this seemed to be one of the answers.”
Wilkinson also serves at her church, Calvary South Dayton.
Leona Dockham and her nephew, Tim Stuart, celebrated her 107th birthday at Canterbury Court in West Carrollton, an Affordable Living by ERS community where she lives.
Dockham was born in 1915 when the first World War was raging in Europe. She was a “Rosie Riveter” during World War II, one of the legions of American women who worked in factories assembling things needed for the war. She helped with the manufacturing of military landing craft in Pontiac, Mich.
Dockham, who cared for her father and married when she was 40, didn’t have children. She has only one living relative, her nephew, Tim Stuart, of Miami Township, who cares for her with his wife, Sherry.
She moved to Canterbury Court to take care of her younger sister, Madelyn, who died in late 2017. When Madelyn Stuart was considering moving in, she told Jan Velkoff, community manager at Canterbury Court, “I want my sister to come with me.”
“I said ‘OK,’ and we worked it out,” because Dockham’s income qualified her to live in the Affordable Living senior community, Velkoff said.
When people were physically distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, “She would walk up and down the hall, so we stopped and talked one day, and took it from there,” Wilkinson said.
“She needed friends, so I feel like God put us together,” Wilkinson said, choking up with love for her friend, whom she said is very witty. “She’s very dear.”
Dockham, at her party, said she has lived an ordinary life. She described herself as a lifelong homebody who “always tried to be as good as I could be.”
She laughed when asked if she always had succeeded.
Leona Dockham spends time with her best friend, Kris Wilkinson.
Dockham’s father worked for a railroad and wore big overalls for his job. They had a cat, which would climb up the inside of his overall leg “and come out the top of the bib,” Wilkinson said.
“She would like to go home and be with Jesus,” Wilkinson said. “But she’s got a good sense of humor. I think it’s been hard to be, except for Tim, the last one.”
Dockham lives with macular degeneration that affects her eyesight and has hearing difficulties. Stewart recently bought her a device that sits on a table and amplifies sounds through earphones, allowing her to hear some things.
“That’s been a huge blessing,” Wilkinson said.
“I come down usually in the afternoons; Tim comes at lunch and gives her ‘her dinner,’ that’s what she calls it, and I usually stop in around three and make sure she gets soup in a bowl and toast her a biscuit, and visit with her for a bit.”
“Just recently, she’s started to come down and have her hair done,” Wilkinson said. Her birthday was the second time she did that, “because she used to do pin-curls, and she can’t do them anymore.”
Canterbury Court residents were pleased the West Carrollton safety chiefs attended, giving her a bouquet of flowers.
“We’re just here to celebrate Leona’s birthday, which was just a great milestone,” Barnett said. “We think she’s probably the oldest resident of West Carrollton.”
Dockham received an angel figurine that plays the song, “(Our Love will Go on) Till the End of Time.”
“This has been really, nice for the community to come alongside her,” Wilkinson said. “This is a wonderful community. It is wonderful. This has been a wonderful experience to come here, truly.”
One amenity ERS Affordable Living communities have that many other senior housing communities lack is a community room, which helps residents build friendships. For a while, it was closed because of the pandemic: “I think everybody is relieved to be able to get together,” Wilkinson said.
Cecilia Gibson, 67, another resident, said about Leona: “I love her. She’s always been pleasant, always been kind. Always positive. She loves physical touch.”
“We have a lot of good people who live here. We enjoy that,” said Velkoff, who has worked there for almost nine years.
Velkoff noted that one former resident, Hilda Henderson, who celebrated her 100th birthday in 2020, recalled growing up in the east end of Dayton and watching the Wright Brothers testing a small airplane near her home.
For Henderson’s birthday, police and firefighters drove by the community, honking their horns and flashing their lights in celebration. Ms. Henderson passed away in 2021.
It’s never too late to enhance your aging — it always helps to have friends around you for support. Read our Positive Aging Guide for tips about staying active, connected, and engaged.