Vera DeShields – Simpson House

Vera D.

“I love all the staff here… always smiling and friendly.”

When Vera DeShields’ son, Charles, persuaded her to move back to Philadelphia to be closer to his Drexel Hill home, she looked at Simpson House, where her aunt is a resident. She liked the location and the availability of different levels of care should she need them.

“Having been in healthcare, I know how things can go when you get older,” says Vera, who now lives in an apartment in the community’s historic Olde Main building. “They have the services and programs to meet my needs.”

She also became friendly with Andy Korman and other members of the sales and marketing team, and with Maureen Dixon, director of Life Enrichment. “They are my people,” she says, adding high praise for the staff at the reception desk, and in housekeeping and maintenance, too.

Family matters

Vera grew up in West Philadelphia with a brother 18 months her senior, a brother four years younger and a sister who was 18 years younger. In December 1957, as she was preparing to enter Pierce Junior College in Philadelphia, her parents told her that they were expecting a baby. She called her brother, who was studying engineering at the time.

“He said, ‘We’ll have to tighten our belts and move over,” she recalls. “I call my sister ‘my college education.’”

By then, Vera had already learned a lot. Her mother had seven sisters, each of whom had a different skill. “I learned cooking, sewing, hairdressing, knitting and crocheting from the aunties,” she relates. She also took lessons in tap, ballet and modern and interpretive dance, as well as piano. Once she mastered a skill, she moved on.

When her sister was three, Vera gave birth to her son, Charles—one of her happiest memories. He gave her four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She also sponsored the younger brother of some friends from Ghana, who came to the United States and joined the military. She is like a mother to him as well, and his children call her “Grandmother.”

Breaking barriers

While she was working at Philadelphia General Hospital, the chief medical examiner was looking for interviewers to talk to families and gather statistical information on the decedents’ background. She took the position and learned on the job. When she took the forensic investigator trainee test, she scored seventh out of 1,300, becoming the first female forensic investigator trainee in Philadelphia’s history. When she passed forensic investigator level 1, she was the first female forensic investigator in the City of Philadelphia. In her position, she investigated sudden, unexplained deaths—such as might be caused by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), alcohol, homicide, suicide or any other circumstance in which the death was unexpected. She was promoted to forensic investigator level 2. When a level 3 job opened up, she was told she wasn’t qualified. After she retired at 55, she was promoted to forensic investigator level 3 and awarded back pay, because it was determined she should have been given the position.

But retirement wasn’t the end of work for Vera. She liked to travel, so she became a travel agent. She went on several cruises, including one that took her through the Panama Canal. She visited Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia and Jamaica. “I would drive to Canada in a minute,” she says. “I love Montreal. I went there for Expo ’67 and several times after.”

Life at Simpson House

The most important lesson she has learned is to “Be true to thyself, love others with dignity and respect, and keep God first in your life.” She also believes that,

“Laughing is good for the soul. Keeping a smile in your heart helps you feel better.”

She says that the secret to aging well is to “Exercise and surround yourself with family and good friends.” At Simpson House, she stays active, exercising five mornings a week. She’s had both hips and knees replaced, so she takes balance training classes. And she saves time to take part in on-campus activities like movies, ice cream socials, happy hours, chili contests and holiday entertainment.

Call us today at 215-452-5051 or submit the form below to see for yourself why Vera DeShields and other seniors choose Simpson House for retirement living.

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