‘Going to the disco’ was a term Thelma Chandler used to say in jest. Today she finally did go to a disco, held in her honour, at The Whiddon Group Laurieton for her 106th birthday.
Almost two years ago, when Thelma was looking to move into the nursing home, she asked director of care services, George Fotoulis, what people living at Whiddon did for fun.
“Do you have a disco?” she asked.
Honouring that sentiment, George and the team at Whiddon organised a discotheque, complete with mirror balls, lights and a DJ. Vinyl records, velvet curtains, plenty of colour and 1970s/80s costumes brought the theme to life. The event was held on Tuesday, a day before her birthday on March 15. These celebrations have to be paced. No doubt there will be plenty of visitors on Wednesday too.
Family and friends gathered for a morning tea Tuesday morning followed by a luncheon. Then the dining room lights dimmed, the mirror ball spun and the DJ started the tunes. Thelma’s niece, Chrissy Rabinowitz, organised a stylish 1970s outfit for the birthday star.
Strong friendship is the cornerstone to her longevity, Thelma said. She was an active member of Social Seniors and Friends at the Camden Haven Community Health Centre for more than 20 years.
Such was her affection for the group, when the mini bus which took the seniors on regular outings broke down, Thelma donated $100,000 for a new bus. It proudly bears her name as it journeys around the Camden Haven, keeping local seniors actively engaged in the community.
“It’s been the most important thing, my friends have been my rock. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such lovely people. I owe all these wonderful people for my longevity, their care, love and friendship gives me a new lease of life every day they come to visit me.”
When asked what the theme to her 107th birthday would be, Thelma laughed.
“Well now, that really is getting old. I think if I’m fortunate enough to be here next year, I just hope my friends will be too and they can come and enjoy the day with me. I don’t know what I’ve done or that I’m important enough to have all this fuss but I am grateful. I don’t know how to repay everyone for what they mean to me other than to say thank you.”
Born in Milsons Point, Sydney on 15 March 1911, Thelma studied accounting after finishing school. She enjoyed her job with the Department of Administration and the opportunities to travel work provided.
The next 50 years were spent living on the land at Exeter in the NSW Southern Highlands, with her first husband, David Conlan.
After David's death, Thelma went on an around-the-world cruise. It was there she met war veteran Mervyn George Chandler who was also grieving after losing his wife. The couple later wed and over the course of their 32 year marriage, they travelled for more than 20 years.
"We found it so interesting to absorb other people's cultures and it makes you more tolerant as a person," Thelma said.
The couple retired to Laurieton and in 1993 Thelma joined the Social Seniors and Friends group. She liked it so much she urged Mervyn to join. Social Seniors and Friends is a program managed by the Mid North Coast Local Health District.
Mervyn sadly passed away at the age of 94.
Thelma continued to live in their St Albans Way home until she was 104 years old. She now lives at the Whiddon Group aged care home in Laurieton, where she says she is well looked after.
Having lived through a total of 25 different Prime Ministers, Thelma credits her longevity to her wonderful friends at Social Seniors.
Donating $100,000 for a new mini bus for the social group was “the best investment I’ve ever made,” she said.
“In the winter of our lives it’s very necessary to make life more pleasant.”
At the time of Thelma’s birth, George V was about to be crowned the King of England and the Titanic was two months shy of being launched for its maiden voyage.
The 20th century holds a lot of fond memories for Laurieton’s oldest resident, but it is the future, not the past, that keeps Thelma Chandler young at heart and sharp of mind.
She said attitude, and the confidence to handle the real world had also had an influence.