West Woods resident commemorates 100th birthday, one month COVID-free

NILES — Approaching the front window of West Woods of Niles nursing home Monday morning, an excited 8-year-old peered inside.

On the other side of the window, an older woman did not immediately see her visitors, but when she did, a smile crossed her face that could be seen even with a mask on. She waved, and then noticed another woman standing with the child. All three women touched the glass, reaching out to one another.

“She’s so precious,” said Peggy Hopper, the woman on the outside of the glass and owner of Hopper’s Restaurant in Berrien Springs. “People love her.”

The visitors and resident could not hear one another through the thick window, so, they all three used hand gestures and light sign language.

On July 6, Margarete Rohl will celebrate her 100th birthday. She is also celebrating another milestone, as she continues recovery from COVID-19. Rohl is a resident of West Woods of Niles nursing home on Stateline Road. She is one of the 75 residents included in the cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported to the state of Michigan from the facility. In addition to residents, 38 staff members were reported to have tested positive for the virus.

Nearly a month into her recovery from the virus, Rohl still needs to use an oxygen tank, but is now able to now see her family through the windows of the facility. Knowing there was not a possibility to celebrate Rohl’s impending birthday traditionally, Hopper decided to make sure her grandmother was appreciated in another way.

In lieu of a birthday party, Rohl’s granddaughter, Hopper, posted on Facebook June 23 asking for cards to be sent to Rohl. With COVID-19 precautions still heavily enforced at the nursing home, visitors are not allowed inside the facility to see their loved ones and family members. Instead, options like window visits and Skype sessions continue to be the best way to make contact with loved ones safely, according to the nursing facility.

Hopper said Rohl has already received several birthday cards. She has also received a life-size, gold rose she displays in her room.

Hopper visited Rohl on Monday outside of a facility window. Rohl’s great-great-granddaughter, Bailey, 8, was with her.

Without properly working hearing aids, Rohl has not been able to hear much lately, but that did not keep her from smiling and signing to her granddaughter and great-great-grandaughter how happy she was to see them, and how much she loved them. The hearing aids will be fixed when a doctor is able to assess them properly, Hopper said.

“She’s been getting [cards and gifts] every day,” Hopper said. “She can celebrate even though she can’t have a [in-person] celebration. On her birthday, we’re going to bring flowers and roses and cakes for the staff to celebrate with her.”

When Rohl fell ill with COVID-19, Hopper initially could not be with her at the nursing facility. The staff sent her photos and updates over her cell phone of her grandmother. Hopper attempted to have the nursing home call for an ambulance, but was informed with all of the mandates and regulations, she was likely to be sent back to the nursing home for medical care.

“She had pneumonia. She was so sick. The picture they sent me was just unbelievable,” Hopper said.

The photo painted a heartbreaking picture to Hopper.

“I never wanted to let go, never wanted to say goodbye,” she said. “I couldn’t stand to see her like that.”

Hopper attributes her grandmother’s recovery to the staff of West Woods of Niles for taking care of her.

“This nursing home is so good,” Hopper said. “They take such good care of her, but because of them all having this virus, I’ve just felt so bad for them.”

During one especially challenging point during Rohl’s recovery, Hopper was allowed as an  exception to enter the nursing facility to see her grandmother. Having been told by her grandmother’s doctor that Rohl would “die of a lonely heart,” she was able to wear the required personal protective equipment and spend about half an hour with her.

“It helped give her something to keep going on for,” Hopper said.

Hopper’s relationship with her grandmother is very special to her. Rohl grew up in Bakertown, Michigan. According to Hopper, Rohl was Miss Bakertown many years ago.

Hopper remembered touring with her brother the property her grandmother was born and raised on in pre-COVID-19 times.

“She told us stories of when she was younger,” Hopper said of her grandmother. “The property in the creek and in the woods. There was a bridge that she hated coming to, because there were snakes.”

As the visit with Rohl at West Woods of Niles wrapped up on Monday, Hopper and Bailey began to blow kisses to Rohl through the window. Rohl touched her hand to her lips and swept out a graceful, pageant queen-like kiss to her family. She was visibly tired, but seems emotionally energized by the visit.

Hopper said Rohl would attribute her longevity to “only the good die young,” but Hopper protested.

“That does not fit her,” Hopper said. “She’s just as sweet as can be.”


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