Opelika woman wins title of 2014 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home
By Alison James
Taking the crown and sash is the dream of many a girl and young woman. At the 2014 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home pageant, one contestant found out what it was like to be crowned the queen – Ms. Arbor Springs Health and Rehab, Edna Farrell.
“I was very very happy and kind of in a state of shock,” said 89-year-old Farrell. “You should have seen some of the women who were in competition with me – they were all old, or about as old as I was – there were no young women in there at all.”
Farrell, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native who came to the area about 14 years ago, competed for the state title at the Hyatt Regency, adjacent to Riverchase Galleria, in Birmingham last month after beating out her nine competitors to become Ms. Arbor Springs. Although pageantry was never something in which she was involved as a child, she said she decided to participate at Arbor Spring because she “thought it would be fun.”
The fun really started with the state competition, which was held in “one of the prettiest halls I’ve ever been in,” said Farrell. “And then I walked out in the shopping center, the Galleria – it went on, and on, and on. I wished I had roller skates.”
Resident services director Alan Hulsey and social service designee Victoria Hudnall were two of the Arbor Springs staff who accompanied Farrell for the exciting day of competition.
“We walk in, and they give us our goody bag, and they tell us we can go set up and get her hair and make-up done,” Hudnall said. “She’s already dressed, so we go to get hair and make-up done, and she’s barking at me, telling me she doesn’t want too much, but I got excited and put points on her lips with red lipstick –”
“For a while I didn’t even look like me,” Farrell cut in.
“Oh come on, Edna!” Hudnall said.
Farrell, and each contestant, went through a private interview process.
“She came out with a smile on her face and said they treated her lovely and made her very comfortable,” Hudnall said.
Then it came time for the on-stage portion of the competition.
“I’m fixing her hair from behind, and she says, ‘Stop, you’re making me nervous. It’s going to be fine,’” Hudnall said.
“She sits there pulling a little piece here and there,” Farrell interjected with a laugh.
When the announcer introduced Farrell – “from Opelika, Alabama,” – she had a little something to add.
“She threw her hand in the air and said, ‘Brooklyn!’ Everyone broke into a laugh,” Hudnall said.
On stage, Farrell was asked what one gift she would give the world, if she could, to which she responded, God’s grace to help people.
“I believe in Him,” Farrell said. “He has done miracles.”
Hudnall said she was on the edge of her seat to find out if Farrell had won.
“When they said her name, I almost knocked somebody out of their chair – I jumped up so high,” Hudnall said.
“She was beaming from ear to ear,” Farrell added.
“I was hollering her name; oh, I sounded like her momma for a minute there,” Hudnall agreed.
Farrell said she felt her mobility – she gets around fairly fast with the help of a walker – gave her an edge over her competitors, but Hudnall and Hulsey said it was her personality that really sealed the deal.
“I figured she would win,” Hulsey said. “I’m not going to say I was surprised – I was excited. But I really thought because of her personality she would win.”
Farrell came home to Arbor Springs with special memories and the iconic pageant mementos – the sash, the crown and a dozen red roses “the most beautiful red roses you would ever want to see,” Farrell said.
“She was more excited about those roses than she was about her crown,” Hudnall said. “When she came back, she didn’t even care where I put the crown. She said, ‘Where are my roses? Put them right here.’ She walked around the whole rest of the evening with those on her walker.”
Before winding up at Arbor Springs, Farrell traveled the nation with her military husband, John, living in nearly every part of the country. She moved to Auburn in 2000 and into Arbor Springs in 2013.
Farrell was a nurse for many years, working in the Cadet Nurse Corps, a “massive and important federal program for the training of American nurses during the second World War,” according to a website about the corps. “Cadet nurses were the largest and youngest group of uniformed women to serve their country,” the website continues. “It was a time when nursing students lived together in nurse residences, when the boys went off to war and when cadets cared for civilians at home and those who returned home after being injured in battle … In February 1945, Surgeon General Dr. Parran testifying before the House of Military Affairs reported: ‘The U. S. Cadet Nurse Corps has been highly successful … Our best estimates are that students are giving 80 percent of the nursing in their associated hospitals. By replacing graduate nurses who already have gone into the military, the U. S. Cadet Nurse Corps has prevented a collapse of the nursing care in hospitals.’”
Farrell served in the Corps while in school at Cornell.
“I had wanted to be a nurse since I was big enough to know what nurse meant,” Farrell said. “I think it was just because I liked to help people.”
She ended up with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing when all was said and done – a distinction that made her the envy of other nurses.
“I was working in a small hospital in Florida … (with) a bunch of older nurses,” Farrell said. “They looked at my paycheck, and they said, ‘How did that young thing get all that money?’ And then I told them I had a BSN, and they said, ‘Oh.’ In those days, BSNs were scarce.”
Her nursing experience has made her outspoken during her time at Arbor Springs – and always eager to try and help the other residents.
“She’ll come up and say, ‘My roommate, she’s feeling a little (fill in the blank); can I just take her blood pressure? Where’s the blood pressure cuff?’” Hudnall said. “We have to say, ‘No, Edna, you can’t. I’m sorry.’”
Helping people find their in their new life in the nursing home has become a mission for Edna, who, Hudnall said, always likes to greet all the new residents in her unit and show them the ropes.
“I worry about them all; I shouldn’t,” Farrell said. “I want to help … It’s hard to adjust. As you get older, you get set in your ways. You want things to go the way you want them to go. And then you come here (to a nursing home) and no, you have to get up earlier so you can get to breakfast so you can get dressed … I can be there and support (other residents) as they try to adjust.”
Although Farrell said she’s “proud to be Ms. Alabama Nursing Home” – she’s shared copies of media coverage with everyone in her Red Hat Society, of which she is president – she also wouldn’t have been brokenhearted if she’d lost.
“There were a lot of women up there with really good reasons to be the queen,” Farrell said. “It was exciting to go … and I’m still impressed with that assembly hall.”