WILMINGTON, N.C. — Bob and Joan Derbyshire are together again.
The couple managed to be side-by-side to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary and now to weather Hurricane Florence as the storm moves into the Carolinas.
Bob Derbyshire, 89, lives in a separate nursing home from his wife, who suffers from dementia and lives at the Davis Community near the coast of Wilmington.
The Davis Community, like some other nursing homes and senior living facilities, has allowed family members of residents and staff to stay in the building to ride out the storm. Pets were welcomed, too.
The Davis Community building was designed to withstand Category 4 winds, so between the structure, a powerful backup generator and overstocked supplies of food and medicine, the staff there said they felt prepared and secure.
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Many of the residents there, although staying indoors, treated Thursday like any other day. Bingo in the afternoon. A tea party planned for the evening. Most televisions that were on showed newscasters braving the elements to cover Florence.
Lying next to his 88-year-old wife, Bob Derbyshire sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” The room was dim since Joan Derbyshire had just woken up from a nap.
“She’s been taking care of me before she got dementia, and so I’ve been taking care of her,” Bob Derbyshire said.
Tuesday, the day Bob Derbyshire temporarily moved in with Joan Derbyshire, was the couple’s 70th anniversary. The Baltimore natives moved to Wilmington about seven years ago to be closer to their children. They have a son in Raleigh, he said.
He was 19 and she was 18 when they married, and he later had a career in psychiatry, working at the University of Maryland medical school and a private psychiatric practice.
This is the first hurricane the Derbyshires have experienced since Joan Derbyshire began living at the Davis Community three years ago, but Bob Derbyshire said he’s not concerned about Florence’s potential impact.
“No, I don’t worry about that. I could go anytime. It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “At this age, you don’t worry about that kind of thing.”
Julie Rehder said they encouraged family members to stay in the facility so everyone could be together. Many visiting family members were provided cots, air mattresses or cushions to help them sleep.
“We’re all kind of just pulling together. It’s like a big campground almost,” said Wayne Schaefer, the community’s clinical coordinator.
Resident Laura Still was in a car crash in 1990 that left her with a traumatic brain injury. She spent 10 years in a coma before regaining consciousness. Thursday afternoon she was playing bingo with her fellow residents.
Born and raised in Wilmington, she’s been through a lot of storms, she said. Florence didn’t faze her.
“I’ll just be here, weathering out the storm,” she said, adding that the Davis Community should be a safe place to stick it out. “It’s better than most.”
About 300 people total are staying in the Davis Community, which had its hurricane shutters closed by Thursday.
Staff staying there were allowed to bring their pets in. Andrea Zowalski, who works in food services and does most of the baking, brought her three cats – Kitt-Katt, Chu-Chu and Tyn-Tyn.
“There’s my baby,” she said, picking up Chu-Chu. “I’m definitely staying because I was worried about them being behind in the house so I wanted them with me. It made sense coming here.”
Food will continue to be served to the residents and guests like any other day. Three extra truckloads of food were delivered this week to prep for the storm, the staff said.
Children also had access to the community game rooms to help keep them occupied and comfortable.
Rae Walton, 19, was playing Connect Four with his younger brother Thursday afternoon. Their mother is on staff.
“I don’t really mind it, just as long as we’re safe with my family,” he said. “I’m enjoying making new friends along the way.”
While some nursing homes with a chain of sister communities transported their residents to other facilities in advance of the storm, many felt it was best to shelter in place to avoid difficulties during relocation efforts.
“We’re in the safest place,” said Shannon Jordan, the Davis Community’s admissions coordinator. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”