By Marilyn Tinnin
Right off Old Canton Road near the Madison County airport, just beyond an iron fence, in the middle of meticulous grounds and big shady oak trees is The Home Place. The wide porch sports a row of heavy rocking chairs—a lot of them! The first impression is one of welcome. Well named, there is nothing that feels institutional here. It does feel like home, and it has been just that for a few thousand elderly residents since its beginnings 100 years ago.
Retirement communities have sprung up all across the state in recent years, but The Home Place is unique in several ways, the first being that it is totally independent and has existed all these years through private donations. Mrs. Lucille Nichols, who has been Director since 1968, is a little bit like a doting mother and a little bit like an enthusiastic evangelist when she talks about her deep affection for The Home Place’s residents, employees, and the relationship they all enjoy with this special place.
It is true that economic security has always been a struggle for millions of older adults. People are living longer. It is more and more common for seniors to outlive their resources. Increased costs of living, along with other life challenges that come with loss of a steady income, have put many seniors at or near poverty level. The Home Place was founded in 1904 as the Willard F. Bond Home, a refuge for elderly men who found themselves in need of assistance. When Jackson’s historic Old Ladies’ Home on West Capitol closed in 1987, the residents there moved to the Bond Home and the now male and female facility became The Home Place.
Residents are charged on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay and the level of care needed. The Home Place is most definitely not a nursing home. Of the present 102 residents, the average age is 87, but most are quite independent. Some others in the personal care category simply need “a little help,” as Mrs. Nichols says. She says, “It’s amazing what good nutrition and a little attention can do for the elderly!”
She is an expert in both as she has secured a corps of willing volunteers who provide regular activities from Bingo and birthday parties, to exercise and frequent musical entertainment, and pet therapy to choir practice. There is a special singing group of very spry residents who take their show on the road to other senior-citizen facilities around the area.
Mrs. Nichols and her late husband were originally hired to oversee the home in 1968. She intended that this would be a short, three-month stop on the way to something else, but she just fell in love with the job and the joy of making a difference in the lives of others. She wakes up as excited to go to work in 2014 as she did 46 years ago.
In recent years, many of The Home Place’s philanthropic friends have passed away. The Annual Fund Drive in December used to generate contributions and memorials that greatly helped meet operating expenses. The changing culture, soaring costs of living, and the economic woes of families with less discretionary income have meant fewer donations.
As Mayor Mary Hawkins, one of The Home Place’s board members, said, “Sometimes it is a little hard to raise money for the elderly.” It is sad that we don’t revere our elderly in the same way previous generations did. As a big fan of Lucille Nichols, she adds, “Times are hard, but Mrs. Nichols doesn’t compromise the care her residents receive. Nobody has ever been turned away despite limited means. It is amazing to see how she works with what she has to make sure every resident is protected and well cared for. I think she is the most selfless person I know.”
The Home Place is always looking for volunteers, for friends who want to stop by to share a talent, bring a musical program, or just play hymns for a sing along. To find out more about this very special place, contact Lucille Nichols at 601.856.8041. The address is 7521 Old Canton Road, Madison, MS, 39110. All contributions are fully tax-deductible and gratefully acknowledged.