A small and extraordinary population
Most of our lives are spent acquiring the quirks and qualities that define us - the mix and match of needs and preferences, the wins, losses, and life lessons that express our personalities. And although we may not be aware of it, who we are is indelible, separate from our routines and possessions.
At a glance, the residents of Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center might seem seduced by conformity. They move about in like rhythm, the sharp edges of personal expression and priorities smoothed by time and compliance. It would be easy to imagine those who all live so similarly in the quiet rooms off the quiet hallways as all being similar. But they remain a small gathering of remarkable individuals.
Photos by CK Wolfson
Mary Ellen Ovens Yakeley, soft-spoken and composed, was a member of the country's "99 Club," the first flying club exclusively for women aviators (there were 99) formed in 1930 by Amelia Earhart.
Ms. Yakeley lives in the assisted living first-floor wing called "Wildflower Court" in a welcoming suite with quilted blankets, framed family photos (uniformed photos of her husband, a retired Navy Captain, and two sons: a two-star Admiral, a Naval Commander), and paintings made by one of her three daughters, Chilmark artist Stephanie Danforth.
"I didn't have a dull life," she says lightly.
A math major at University of Arizona, Ms. Yakeley was teaching seventh grade at Adams School in Phoenix, Ariz., when she went on a vacation with friends to Hawaii that changed her life.
She smiles as she reminisces about meeting Navy pilots stationed there, including her future husband: "And all the navy pilots did was talk flying... and I was just fascinated."
She returned home, was accepted to the Civilian Pilot Program - pilots were needed to ferry the planes from where they were built to the bases - and received her pilot's license in 1940.
"It wasn't hard," she explains. "I just did it as a hobby. Then five or six of us bought a single engine, two-seater Piper Cub - they don't even make them anymore. Our only instrument was an altimeter. I would go out on Sunday and take my friends up. I would have a date and we'd go up and fly."
She says, "It was a long time ago. It was just one phase of my life. I'd decided to do something I thoroughly enjoyed."
And saying she doesn't like giving advice "because what applies to one person wouldn't apply to another," adds, "I would just tell people to do things. Just don't sit."