Hasselle continues others at 90

Mar. 19—An ageless angel of mercy, with sparkling eyes and a ready smile is how fellow residents at Aldersgate Retirement Community describe Delores Hasselle. Known as "Mama D" and Miss Delores at her senior community, Hasselle believes the secret to a long and happy life is being a Christian first and doing for others.

"When I retired I told the Lord if somebody needed something, please let them ask me and I will try to do whatever they need," Hasselle said.

Whether it's encouraging her other senior residents or consoling her pet flying squirrel, George, no living thing escapes the loving nurture of Hasselle. Her kindness is shown in crocheting prayer shawls with her friends at First Baptist Church, hand knitting baby booties, baking her signature peanut butter cookies or sewing.

"What do I do all day? I cook, and sometimes I make breakfast for the maintenance men," Hasselle said. "If they are on a break I may bring them coffee and cookies. If someone has a hole in their pants they will bring them to me, and I will fix them."

Her energy amazes all those around her.

"She is always a joy, and even at 90, seems as mentally bright as anybody," said Aldersgate Chaplain Ken Owen. "That comes at least in part from her faith in the Lord. She is someone who loves others in both word and deed. She is a regular at our Thursday chapel service and still attends her local church where she is the longest serving member."

Floy Duncan, 92, said she met Delores, her "BFF," before Delores came to live at Aldersgate when she came once a month to play Bingo.

"I don't know how our paths crossed and we became such good friends, but it happened," Duncan said. "We have the same sense of humor and frown at the same things, like these half-dressed ladies we see. We look forward to football season even though we are on opposite teams. Delores is a Mississippi State fan even though her son-in-law, Davey, is an Ole Miss fan."

Duncan said her best friend is always willing to be there for her, no matter what time of day it is.

"I am not afraid to ask her to do anything, and she has done plenty for me," Duncan said. "I was having a sinking spell one morning with my blood pressure, and I called her at 4 a.m. and she came and sat with me until my children could get here.

"It's hard to find something to do for her. Once she said to me that she hadn't done anything all day. I said to her, 'Good, you need a rest.'"

Hasselle's caring and nurturing spirit for the elderly began many years ago at the old St. Joseph Hospital where she spent 30 years as a registered nurse. Hasselle began her nursing career at Meridian Junior College at the age of 35, and with three children at home. She was in the first nursing class to graduate from the school.

"I asked God if it was his plan for me to go into the nursing program, have someone from the college call me," Hasselle said. "Of course I knew no one from the college was going to call me, why would they? But they did, so I had my answer.

"I had $500 in a Christmas savings at the bank and that was in July, so I called Howard Cameron at Citizens Bank, who knew me and my husband Frank. I told him I was coming to get my Christmas Club early, so I could go to nursing school. He gave me the whole $500 without charging me a penalty."

What was in like working at St. Joseph with the nuns? Hasselle said the first thing they taught the nurses at St. Joseph — they were not to be supervisors, they were floor nurses, not a director or anything else.

"I had been there about six months when one of the nuns asked me to be the head nurse," Hasselle said. "I told her no, I could not, I was not taught to be a head nurse. She kept on for about three months when one day she told me I was head nurse of that floor.

"There was a nurse working there who had graduated from Matty Hersee the day I graduated from high school. She had been working there for 15 years, and I told them she should be head nurse. Their response was she lived in DeKalb and that was too far. While working I went on and got my Bachelor of Science by attending class at Southern Miss once a week."

Hasselle said she enjoyed the freedom working at St. Joseph gave her.

"I could do exactly what I wanted to do, even though the nuns fussed at me a lot of times," Hasselle said. "For instance I liked picking up trays because even if I was told the patient ate good, I didn't know if they did or not, so every now and then I would pick up a tray to see if they really ate anything. I would answer the bell whenever I wanted to, and they let me. They fussed at me a lot of times about that too.

Hasselle said St. Joseph is also where she realized she had a special love and compassion for the elderly, which she attributes to her grandparents. She remembers caring for five patients who lived at St. Joseph, because there was only one nursing home in Meridian at the time, Kings Daughters.

"I only remember two of the residents, Mr. Hardin, owner of Hardin's Bakery, and Ms. Lyle, who lived there longer than anyone else," Hasselle said. "My grandparents had a lot to do with my growing up, I spent a lot of time with them. They did for me, and when it got time, I did for them.

"I love the elderly, that's why I like living at Aldersgate, like I'm not elderly myself."

Delores also enjoys having handy access to her daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Davey Wilkinson, who live in a cottage at the community.

"My husband had died and, at the time I was living with my other daughter, Deborah." Hasselle said. "Davey called me one day and said, 'Aged mother-in-law (a nick-name he has for me) you better start packing. You are five on the list at Aldersgate.' He realized I needed my own place. I love it here, and we all get along.

Robyn Stephens, executive director of Aldersgate and Hannah Culpepper, life enrichment director, both agree Hasselle is not one to just sit down, or expect others to do everything.

"Once she saw a water leak from a lobby restroom, and while waiting for the crew to come, we caught her on the video with a broom sweeping the water back, all by herself," Stephens said.

"Delores gives a hundred percent to whatever she's doing," Culpepper said. "She takes part in community activities, including exercise three times a week, despite several operations on her knees and shoulder."

Hasselle said she didn't intend to live to be 90, but as long as she is here she will continue to do what God wants her to do — do the best she can, and help others. She continues to go to church on Sundays at Marion Methodist where she is the longest member, having been a member since the age of 12.

"I'm not limited by anything, I don't hurt, and I sleep and eat what I want to," Hasselle said. "I recently went to the cardiologist and he said he would see me in two years.

Hasselle said she dreamed recently she was in Heaven. Everyone was the same size, had on identical clothes, and were walking around doing what they were supposed to do.

"I can't imagine having a mansion or a crown, as long as I am in Heaven I will be satisfied with a pallet on the ground, Hasselle said.