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Prom Night Not Just for Students


LAKE FOREST — At 85, Jeannie Roeder could barely remember her prom, which was held in a one-room schoolhouse in Idaho Falls, Ida.

But Roeder and about 50 other residents of Lake Forest Nursing Center now have new memories to cherish: The seniors joined with Mission Viejo High School students to participate in the center's first annual prom.

With prom fever sweeping through high schools, officials at the nursing center said they didn't want their senior citizens to feel left out. So three weeks ago, activities director Karen Linhoff got more than 100 people from across the county to donate their old prom dresses and suits.

About 40 juniors and seniors at Mission Viejo High jumped at the offer to escort the seniors to the ceremony.

"Some of our girls thought it's a good idea to get to wear their prom dresses again and make the evening special for the (senior citizens) at the same time," said Jean Jerome, the high school's director of student activities. "This is an example of what's right with young people."

Leslie Barricella, the 18-year-old president of the student body, said she had to turn down scores of other volunteers.

"Everybody wanted to help," Barricella said. "It's like going on a date with your grandparents."

On Thursday afternoon, the girls brought along their makeup, lipstick and hair spray to help dress the women, while the boys transformed the center's dining room into a big band ballroom.

Rena Haimes, 75, regaled the high school girls with stories about how her prom date in Washington proposed to her on the same night. She came to California instead, she said.

"They are as excited and happy as we are," said Michelle Manica, 18, as she covered Roeder's hair in a small cloud of hair spray. "Age doesn't seem to matter. This is how we felt at our prom" a week ago.

"I don't know if an old lady deserves this much attention," cooed Roeder excitedly, only half-joking as she adjusted her black and silver evening gown on her shoulder. "I've never seen so many good looking boys and girls in my life. I hope I can act right."

Later, a disc jockey struck up the music, attempting to bridge the gap between the generations: A little rock 'n' roll, a few disco tunes and some big band oldies.

Vera Billings, who at 101 is the nursing center's oldest resident, wiggled in her wheelchair. The faces of other senior citizens brightened as the opening chords of Glenn Miller's "In The Mood" echoed through the "ballroom."

The students escorted some residents from their wheelchairs and danced with them briefly. Later, the senior citizens clapped their hands while the students danced with each other.

Most of the residents have suffered strokes and are in wheelchairs. So the students made a conga line by snaking wheelchairs through the tables to the rhythm of the music. Later, Roeder and 84-year-old Roger Coe were crowned the prom's king and queen.

After she awoke Friday, Roeder put on her gold paper crown. She wore it most of the day.

"That was great," Roeder said. "That was the best prom I ever had."

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