By Stacy Smith

Not letting the parades pass her by, you could find Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2015 Sylvia Holland waving from her float in the National Peanut Festival Parade in Dothan to riding in a yellow convertible during the Christmas on the River Parade in Demopolis.

Demopolis Mayor Michael Grayson presents a key to the City of Demopolis to Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Sylvia Holland on October 22, 2015.

Demopolis Mayor Michael Grayson presents a key to the City of Demopolis to Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Sylvia Holland on October 22, 2015.

“I understand this pageant is about making a difference in the world around you,” Demopolis Mayor Michael Grayson said as he presented her a key to the City of Demopolis during a reception in her honor. “Ms. Holland, that’s what you are doing.”

“I’ve enjoyed every minute this year as Ms. Alabama Nursing Home,” Ms. Holland reminisced recently at her nursing home, Woodhaven Manor located in Demopolis. “I have always thought that Alabama has some of the nicest people and this gave me the opportunity to meet so many of them and to tell them how much I love my nursing home and living in the South. I feel like the nursing home has given me 20 years back on my life. People shouldn’t be afraid of nursing homes in Alabama.”

Ms. Holland has spoken to a Rotary Club, the Demopolis Pilot Club and many other groups. Earlier this year, speaking to more than 30 University of Alabama at Birmingham Health Care Management graduate students, Ms. Holland said she could relate to the student’s career goals because she once worked as a receptionist in a dentist’s office.

“I think my children are amazed at how I now go out and talk” said Ms. Holland. “My children forgot that I learned a career later in life in estate sales, selling furniture, glassware, china and crystal. I did that almost until right before I came to live in the nursing home. Serving as Ms. Alabama Nursing Home gave me a chance to know a lot of people at different stages and different ages and learn a lot of things.”

Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Sylvia Holland and Englewood Health Care Center resident Odarrian Watson.

Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Sylvia Holland and Englewood Health Care Center resident Odarrian Watson.

“Whatever shyness she had at the beginning is gone,” said Brandon Taylor, Administrator of Woodhaven Manor. “Ms. Holland has found her public speaking voice and thoroughly enjoys this. What this whole year has done is show that the nursing home is a place to come and grow. It’s been like a rebirth for her at 80 plus years old.”

Even while busy serving as Ms. Alabama Nursing Home this year, Ms. Holland hand painted birthday cards for each of the residents. She self-taught herself to paint.

“The staff at Woodhaven Manor provided her the art materials and she did the rest,” explains Mattie Bryant, Activity Director at Woodhaven Manor. “Before she came to Woodhaven, she never painted a day in her life. She can look at a picture and paint a picture. I asked her if she learned to paint and she said no. She liked to color and next thing we know she was drawing pictures!”

Ms. Holland visited many nursing homes this year giving encouraging words such as, “Just because you are in a nursing home does not mean that you are over. Life is going to continue, it’s what you make it to be.”  Then, if someone needs a picture in their room, she donates one of her watercolor paintings to him or her.

“I did a few paint-by-number paintings with the children growing up. But watercolor paints on paper, I never did that. I know I have to do something to keep myself busy. I’m not a great artist, but I’m a good artist and really enjoy it. I am teaching myself to paint and love to paint nature, flowers, birds, bird houses, and oriental vases. I also tried some contemporary abstracts and they turned out well. I get a lot of my ideas by looking at magazines,” said Ms. Holland.

Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Sylvia Holland waves to the crowd while riding in the Christmas on the River Parade in Demopolis.

Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Sylvia Holland waves to the crowd while riding in the Christmas on the River Parade in Demopolis.

As she concludes her reign, Ms. Holland has a few words of advice for whomever is crowned Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2016.

“God has been very good to me,” reflects Ms. Holland. “My advice to the next Ms. Alabama Nursing Home is to be yourself. Do your best. Life is about enjoying things. Take each and every day you are given and make it the fullest possible. Enjoy it!”

The Alabama Nursing Home Association thanks Sylvia Holland for her service as Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2015. She made a difference in countless lives during her reign.

The 2016 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home pageant will be held at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – The Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham on July 25, 2016. Visit http://anha.org/pageant/ for more information. The top 10 finalists for the 2016 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant will be announced July 7 on anha.org.

Editor’s Note: Stacy Smith, APR, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham.