By Stacy Smith

With this pageant, Cleo McLeroy harkens back to her teenage days, when she was in one other pageant. She was the Strawberry Princess of Cullman, Alabama.

McLeroy enjoys meeting new people, helping others as much as she can, and enjoying life to its fullest. She worked as a secretary and book keeper at Cullman High School.

“I loved my job! Those kids kept me young,” said Cleo McLeroy.

While McLeroy said that she is enjoying herself and having a good time at Woodland Village Rehab & Health Care Center, this was not initially the case.

“When we first came to Woodland Village, I was not the happiest person about the situation. I was planning on my husband and me getting better and returning home,” explained McLeroy.

McLeroy married her high school sweetheart who was literally and figuratively her best buddy, Buddy “B.F.” McLeroy.  They had a truck and camper, and when they would decide that they wanted to go somewhere, they would. They visited 48 of the 50 states.

“My wonderful husband, unfortunately, passed away, and I miss him every day. So, I had a decision to make, ‘What’s next for me?’” said McLeroy.

She talked with her family, and they decided that her residing at Woodland Village was the best thing for her. At first, she was not happy about the decision. “But, deep down I knew that it was the best thing for me,” said McLeroy.

It is a big transition, moving from your home to living in a nursing home. “It was a lot to get used to in a short period of time. I had lost my husband of over 60 years and was dealing with going to live the rest of my life in a nursing home,” explained McLeroy.

She now says that the decision to live at Woodland Village is one of the best things that could have ever happened to her.

“This is my home! Along with the physical changes, I was noticing other changes in myself also. I felt safe, content, and happy. I love the fact that Woodland Village is my home now,” said McLeroy. She has lived at Woodland Village for almost two years.

Living at Woodland Village is truly a family affair. Her brother and sister are residents, too. McLeroy laughed and said, “Having them here, it’s like old times again.” She recalls many good times growing up together and, always getting into something.

“I am enjoying myself and having a good time,” said McLeroy.

McLeroy serves as a Resident Activity Volunteer and enjoys helping with activities such as using the Wii to play games, exercise, and dance.

“Cleo is a very encouraging leader to other residents, inviting them to activities and sometimes getting them to attend when we, the staff, are not able to. She will tell residents, ‘You’ve got two choices: sit there and do nothing, or come and have some fun with the rest of us. Come on, let’s go!’ And, usually they follow,” said Mary Tilly, Activities Director, Woodland Village Rehabilitation & Health Care.

Editor’s note: This is the final story in a 10-part series about the finalists for the 2017 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant. We’ll post the results of the pageant July 31 at http://anha.org.

Stacy Smith, APR, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.

For more information about the pageant, click here.