Sharon Sandgren, who grew up in St. Anthony Park, remembers the children who lived in the orphanage at 2237 Commonwealth Ave. They were her friends and classmates at Gutterson Elementary School on Como Avenue.
Many years went by before she found herself visiting her elderly parents in the same white stucco building, which had since become a nursing facility.
Even though it has been several years since her parents were at the St. Anthony Park Home, she continues to come regularly, usually with her cat, Lady Guinevere.
Sandgren says, “So many people here don’t have anyone — no family.”
Lady Guinevere is a magnificent Maine coon cat with a long brown fur coat trimmed with a leonine collar of white. Sandgren began bringing Lady G along to the nursing home so that her mother could see her pet.
The regally calm Lady G would sit on the lap of Sandgren’s wheel-chair-bound mother as they went from room to room. Lady G was a welcome visitor.
Sandgren volunteers twice a month at St. Anthony Park Home, usually bringing Lady G along. She built a shelf so that wheelchairs can support the 16-pound cat.
“She’s a perfect, very docile cat,” says Sandgren. “She allows herself to be petted and hugged.”
Some residents with poor vision enjoy petting Lady G’s long fur. Others, says Sandgren, won’t ever speak except to the cat. Lady G has special costumes for Halloween and Christmas.
Today Lady G. is visiting clay class, watching as some of the residents paint pastel glazes on clay Easter baskets. Volunteer instructor Ann Fendorf supervises the effort and will take the painted pieces to be fired in the kiln at her south St. Anthony Park home.
One resident turns over her basket to inspect it and says, “It’s cracked.”
Fendorf reassures her, “No, no, it’s okay. That’s what makes it creative.”
A potter and instructor at Northern Clay Center, Fendorf has been doing clay classes at St. Anthony Park Home for six years.
Her involvement came about when a friend’s mother became a resident. Besides volunteering her time and skills, she donates the materials for the class.
“Some of the residents have never done any art before, and some are talented,” says Fendorf. “It makes you wonder about their lives. You learn so much.”
St. Anthony Park Home has dozens of volunteers. They push residents in wheelchairs in the Fourth of July parade. They perform music for the residents.
One — Marylee Geer, a parishioner at St. Cecilia’s Church in south St. Anthony Park — volunteers as a Eucharistic minister, bringing communion to the home’s Catholic residents.
She says the rewards in volunteering are in the smiles, hugs and kisses she receives.
“There are some really interesting people here,” she says. “Some get no visitors. There should be more visitors.”