By Stacy Smith

“I love the nursing home and love the people. I like to get involved in anything I can,” explains Sylvia Holland, Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2015.

And, involved she is. She has been a resident of Woodhaven Manor in Demopolis for a little more than one year and when she is not playing Bingo or visiting other residents, she is incredibly creative making dollhouses out of cardboard and using a variety of materials to decorate the homes. She also makes flowers out of coffee filters. She has donated 49 dollhouses to residents, family and community members.


From left to right: Gary Brown, Elly Brown, Sharon McAliley, Mary Francis Brown, and Stanley Holland with Sylvia Holland, Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2015.

Sylvia has five sons, one daughter and six grandchildren. She and her husband of 40 years Earl, were foster parents and two of their children were adopted from foster care. The grown children are spread across the U.S. in Auburn, Boston and Demopolis.

“Before about a year ago, we had never seen our Mom sick. She had only ever gone to the hospital to have her children,” said Sharon McAliley, Sylvia’s daughter.  Then, the situation changed.

“Our brother Gary found a local-to-him nursing home with an available room. It has been a God send. After therapy, love, care and proper diet, within three weeks they nursed her back to what we knew our Mom to be. I am so indebted to Woodhaven Manor. They have been wonderful to mother,” said Sharon.

Twenty years now living and working in Boston, her son Stanley Holland, drove down last year and saw that his Mom was unhealthy. “It broke my heart to move her into a nursing home. Now, looking back, this was one of the smartest decisions we ever made, to have Mom reside at Woodhaven Manor,” said Stanley.

Sylvia said that she loves to tell senior citizens not to be afraid to go into a nursing home. “Alabama has some of the best nursing homes in the country, very clean, the food is good, and the care is excellent,” she said.

“You can again see that she is more beautiful inside than she is outside,” said Sharon. Sylvia is known to pick up a coat or blanket for a resident who drops it.

Gary Brown, her son living in Demopolis, takes her to volunteer at the Bargan Box on Saturday mornings and he, with his two daughters Mary Francis and Elly, goes to church with Sylvia on Sunday.

“I would not have the quality of life I have if I had not come to Woodhaven Manor,” explains Sylvia.

Gary said, “This is a good situation. Inside of two months of her move to Woodhaven Manor her health improved. The stress of not having to take care of her house was eliminated plus my two teenage daughters and I see her regularly. She comes out to the girls’ tennis matches and softball games. Before she moved to Woodhaven, she was 200 miles away. Now she is two minutes away.”


Sisters Mary Francis and Elly Brown, Sylvia Holland’s (center) granddaughters, hold up their pageant booster sign made for her by the Woodhaven Manor staff.

Mary Francis said that, “We would go visit her in Hartford but only see MeMaw three times a year at most. Now she’s close by and I can drive, I’m 16, and I can see her. Before this pageant, I drove her to get her hair cut.”

Younger sister Elly said, “She tells us to come over. We’ve gotten a lot closer. We would always cry when we had to drive far away and leave her and now we don’t.”

“People at the nursing home ask us, ‘Are you Sylvia’s grandkids?’ MeMaw makes the rounds. People know her. She’s such a great influence and so pure hearted.  We were just talking about that we never see her sin,” said Elly.

“I know,” countered Mary Francis. “We ask ourselves, what does MeMaw do?”

Uncle Stanley could tell his nieces that their MeMaw puts everybody else first. His childhood memories are of riding in the backseat of the car to go with his Mom to help someone.

Stanley called her before she entered this pageant and she asked what he thought about her entering. She was not comfortable with entering this pageant. “I told her to step out of her comfort zone. Next thing I know, she is calling me with the news that she’s a top 10 contestant. O my gosh! I had to put all my work on hold to fly down here from Boston,” he said.

“The morning of the pageant, I was frightened and excited. I was honored to be in the top 10,” said Sylvia. Now, she is the winner with a year-long reign as Ms. Alabama Nursing Home ahead. However, on pageant night, she spends it with her family, all together, perhaps while wearing her crown.

Sylvia said, “If Earl was still with us, he’d be as excited as I am. He would have said, ‘Well done Momma. Honey, you made it.’”

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