Finally Settled in a New Home, West End's Mary Frances Page Celebrates Her 100th Year

After moving for the coming FC Cincinnati stadium, a West End resident marks a century of life and adjusts to a new apartment

Feb 28, 2020 at 4:04 pm
click to enlarge Mary Frances Page and care manager DeeDee Connolly - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Mary Frances Page and care manager DeeDee Connolly

Mary Frances Page is resplendent in a rich purple floral dress and surrounded by purple flowers and balloons as she sits in her new apartment in the West End and celebrates surviving this world for 100 years.

It's an especially poignant milestone given the last turbulent year, as Page and her niece Kim Dillard struggled to find her a new home.

But today is about joy.

There is a cake, also trimmed in purple and bearing the words "Happy 100th Birthday Mary." There are cards — handwritten, store-bought, the kind that play music when you open them. A photo of Page's late husband watches over the proceedings approvingly.

She smiles often. 

"I feel good," she volunteers to the room. "I feel very good. I'm 100. If I could walk, I would be running and jumping right now." 

Due to problems with circulation in her legs, Page is mostly bedridden. But she's full of energy and sly wit. She brings up a relative who promised her a hundred dollars if she made it to 100. She wants her money.

"You're the queen today," says caregiver Sicily Cofer, who works for a home care company called Distinctive Hands.

Cofer, Dillard and Page's care manager, DeeDee Connolly of Council on Aging, make plans for the warmer months. They'd like to get Page a little more mobile so she can go outside to enjoy the weather, accompanying family and friends for grill-outs on the back patio.

"In the spring and summer, we're going to get you going so you can go outside," Cofer says.

Conolly says Page is COA's oldest client. The room is centered around her, this woman who moved to Cincinnati from Greenville, South Carolina in her early 50s to work, settling first in Mount Auburn and then in the West End sometime in the 1980s. She had lived in the same apartment for at least 15 years, until Jan. 31, when an ambulance moved her to her new location on the other side of the neighborhood.

That was the end of a months-long struggle.

Around this time in 2019, Page received a notice that she would need to leave her apartment at 421 Wade Street in 70 days. The notice set Dillard, her main caregiver, on a feverish scramble to find new housing affordable on Page's fixed income. It also sparked an intense debate after it was revealed that FC Cincinnati purchased her building and another nearby for development around their coming $250-million soccer stadium.

Eventually, with the help of the city, the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati and housing advocates, the team and residents including Page came to a confidential agreement. The upshot — Page and others had until January this year to move and received relocation assistance from the team. 

click to enlarge Kim Dillard slips a new bracelet — a 100th birthday gift — onto her great aunt Mary Frances Page's wrist. - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Kim Dillard slips a new bracelet — a 100th birthday gift — onto her great aunt Mary Frances Page's wrist.

Dillard says it took every bit of that time and assistance to find a suitable place for her great aunt. There was the daunting search for an apartment that would accept her housing voucher and that was on the first floor without steps. There were paperwork struggles. And loud in the background, the political fight over the coming stadium's impact on a historically African-American community that has long suffered from disinvestment and lack of economic opportunity. 

Now, all the remaining residents are housed.

It's clear that change has been hard for Page. The media attention, the back-and-forth over housing, the uncertainty — they all disturbed Page greatly, her niece says. 

Connolly observes that the new place, with fresh white walls and good lighting, is nice. Page misses her old home, though, at least at this early stage of settling in. Wall art with bible verses is waiting to be hung. The TV, playing soaps, rests on a cardboard box.

"I don't like the new apartment," she says bluntly. "But I'm here now, so I have to like it." 

The adjustment isn't spoiling the birthday fun, though. There are gummy bears, Peeps and Goldfish crackers — a replacement for Page's favorite, an old snack called Tidbits that has proven elusive. 

Today, Dillard just wants to celebrate this milestone — a victory over precariousness and a testament to Page's faith and optimism. 

"I'm relaxing today," Dillard says. "That was a long struggle. If she's happy, I'm happy."

Page, meanwhile, is thinking about the future.

"I'm going to make it to 101," she says. "Just hang on to the lord. He'll work you on up there."