On Sunday, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School National Honor Society added a new spin to the concept of a senior prom. The teens threw a party for the residents of the Windemere Nursing home modeled after a 1940s era prom.
Windemere residents and high schoolers danced to classic big band music, competed in an era-appropriate trivia game, watched a classic film and even honored a prom king and queen.
The theme was “Spring Swing.” Students and staff decorated two of the event/activity rooms with black and white balloons, streamers, and confetti stars. Life-size cutouts of Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin greeted guests. The girls dressed up for the occasion in glamorous dresses and there was a huge sheet cake and punch.
“We wanted to do something light-hearted to bring some fun into the community,” honor society co-president Julia Cooper said, adding that the timing was appropriate given that the high school prom is just weeks away.
NHS advisor Jean Noble explained that the party was conceived and organized by the group of over 70 honor society members to fulfill a community service requirement. “It was our original intention to come during every holiday, but the kids are involved in so many different things it didn’t work out,” she said. “We will do this as an annual event.”
The 11 girls and one boy who participated took turns dancing with the seniors, even taking some residents in wheelchairs for a spin around the dance floor.
Windemere resident Carolyn Ryan, dressed in an elegant two-piece dress, clearly enjoyed the dancing. “I love to dance. I love music,” she said, “My husband and I met at a dance. Every Saturday night we went to a dance in the town [Tewksbury] until he passed away. We were married for 47 years.”
Couples dancing was de rigueur in Ms. Ryan’s day. “I get a little perturbed at the younger generation,” she said, “When I was in my teenage years, when you danced with a guy you danced with a guy — none of this you over here and you over there.”
Ms. Ryan appreciated the selection of hits from the 1940s but commented disparagingly on one singer’s rendition of “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good). “She’s killing it,” said the outspoken octogenarian.
In the dining hall, residents participated in a trivia contest with enameled classic car pins as prizes. Dorothy Hidler, 87, dominated the competition. “I think I was probably born the closest to the decade,” she said, “When the war was over I was about 21 or 22. That’s when you learn. You pay attention to things. You’re not busy raising kids.”
Ms. Hidler was able to correctly answer questions about institutions like Lux Radio Theater and knew that George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1948.
Ms. Hidler lives in Connecticut but was spending two weeks at Windemere near her daughter, the author Susan Wilson. She recalls spending summers on the Vineyard as a kid when her father played in the Vineyard Haven Band.
She has made the most of her time at the facility. “I’ve been to several very interesting things,” she said, mentioning music programs and visits from grade schoolers, “I’m enjoying it very much.”
Recreation director Betsy Burmeister said the facility hosts a number of parties and events throughout the year. “The kids put a lot of effort into making it about their era,” she said. “Seeing the kids dressed up and dancing with them was really special for them.”
Ms. Burmeister said that it was senior Fionnuala Howell who initially approached her about the prom. Fionnuala has been volunteering at Windemere for just over a year, visiting two to three times a week to play chess and bingo with the residents, read the newspaper out loud and help with events.
She said that she has gotten a lot out of the experience and has developed relationships with a number of the residents.
A slight technical delay at the beginning of the prom provided the other teens with the opportunity to get to know the seniors before the music began. Many remarked that they had enjoyed having the chance to chat with the residents and learn a little more about another era.
Marc Natichioni, who will graduate this year, hopes that the prom will become an annual or twice yearly event. “Overall I think it went very well,” he said, “I think underclassmen should keep up the tradition.”