By Stacy Smith

Ms. St. Martin’s in the Pines 2019, Juanita Tant, began her lifetime dedication to volunteer service as a teenager, and continues to this day.

In the 1940s, she volunteered with the teen corps of the American Red Cross. In the 1950s-70s, she was active with the United Methodist Church women’s service group and was a founding member of Rocky Ridge United Methodist Church.

“Now, I am working with the life enrichment director at St. Martin’s in the Pines to start a mentor program. The program partners a new resident with a longtime resident to make the new resident feel more at home,” said Tant.

“Ms. Tant is a great motivator! She always tries to encourage the other elders,” said Lisa Morris who works in Social Services at St. Martin’s in the Pines.

She has two daughters and three grandchildren. Active in her daughters’ schools, she served as president of their elementary school PTA, and was an officer of the year of the Jefferson County Public School District PTA. At the same time, she was a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital Volunteer.

Special moments she fondly recalls include spending time with her family with toes in the sand and feeding gummy bears to sand crabs, having Kool-aide and Oreos with her young daughters and their friends by the pool, and being honored at a dinner hosted by Pizitz department store at the Tutwiler home when she was awarded Alabama Volunteer of the Year.

She recalls one adventure leading a Girl Scout troop when it was time to advance to the next level requiring earning the outdoor camping badge.

“It was not my choice of badges,” said Tant. “I gathered up my leaders, whistle, compass, canteen, and troop. We established our campsite. After lunch and with compass in hand, we started off on our hike. We identified trees, plants, and even rocks. On the hike back, our camp was not where I left it,” said Tant.

It started to get late.

“I was ready to throw that compass under the nearest bush. Then, lo and behold, I heard the Boy Scout sound off. We had camped so well that they sent the Boy Scout troop to escort us back. That’s my story, and I am sticking to it!” said Tant.

She admires her father, Henkler Clark Real, who accomplished much for his family and community. He overcame challenges to achieve an education as a teacher, but there was not a school near his community. So, he built a school and taught there. Later, he enlisted in the Army. After the war, he became a courier with top security clearance. He brought all his nieces and nephews to Birmingham to see that they were educated, and he helped them find jobs.

Heralding the history of Birmingham, Tant co-wrote the docent program for historic Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens, narrated a documentary “Then and Now” for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) about this now decorative arts museum, and led Old Birmingham Walking Tours for the Birmingham Historical Society.

In 1974, she was invited to a personally guided tour of the historical art pieces of the diplomatic rooms of the White House. In 1957, her family was fortunate to take one of the last cruise ships to port Havana, Cuba. She found Cuba to be a beautiful, lush country.

“When my husband was put in hospice, St. Martin’s in the Pines helped me. The staff faithfully visited and took time to minister to me and my family. When my husband passed away, the staff loved me, comforted me, and took extra care for my family. It was a difficult adjustment after 69 years of marriage. The staff presented me with opportunities and helped me realize it was not all on ending, that life could still be fulfilling and meaningful,” said Tant.

A good will ambassador, Tant greets new residents, helps answer questions, acquaints people, and invites them to programs and activities. She is president of the Elder Learning Circle, and active in the ladies’ ministry at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. She enjoys participating in the Red Hat Society, garden club, cooking club and bingo.

“I deliver birthday cards and birthday balloons. I provide reassurance and a friendly smile,” said Tant. “I encourage seniors to better their own facility by sharing time with other residents and to be open about participating in new programs.”

“Juanita Tant has a vivacious spirit and contagious smile. She is such an encourager for her fellow residents,” said Dr. Mercedes Dewitt, Corporate Compliance Officer at St. Martin’s in the Pines.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in a 10-part series about the finalists for the 2019 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant. On July 23, we’ll post a story about Ms. The Folsom Center for Rehab & Health Care Faye Aaron.

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

The Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant is July 29. Click here for more information.