Don Veal walks around the activity room at Westbury Health & Rehabilitation Center wearing a Groucho Marx pair of glasses, nose and mustache disguise. Some residents laugh and smile. Others look at him strangely. Either way, everyone gets a kick out it.
His wife Genelle Veal pours coffee into Styrofoam cups and cuts up slices of her homemade pound cake, which she serves to the residents in the room.
Mr. Veal's been volunteering at Westbury for 14 years. His wife's done it for four.
"It's a blessing to me. I guess it's my life now," said Mr. Veal.
The couple visits Westbury twice a week, on Tuesdays to help with Bingo and on Thursdays when they give away 110 sweet potatoes to the residents.
"A lot of times, that's all they care about eating," said Mr. Veal.
Mr. Veal said that he never expected to donate such time to residents in nursing homes. He first volunteered at Westbury, known by other names - including Starcrest - over the years, when his cousin's wife, Agnes Chambers, a resident of the nursing home, refused to eat. Mr. Veal tried feeding her and he had success.
"She's the one, through the Lord, that got me started," said Mr. Veal.
At the time he began helping Mrs. Chambers, Mr. Veal had retired from General Motors after 36 years as an inspector and repairman and was working on his 20-acre farm in Rockdale County. He visited Mrs. Chambers twice a week, and got into the habit of bringing other residents food, like tomatoes and cantaloupes. He also went to other area nursing homes to visit friends he'd known since childhood.
These days, he visits primarily Westbury, where he brings residents not only the sweet potatoes but other treats like snack cakes, chewing gum, candy and bananas.
"If they can't eat it, I feed it to them," said Mr. Veal.
Mr. Veal said he couldn't accomplish all of his volunteer activities without the support of his wife of 47 years, and other individuals who have aided him. Mrs. Veal, who worked in the cafeteria at C.J. Hicks Elementary School for 32 years, cleans, bakes and wraps the sweet potatoes, which the couple purchase with their own funds. She's been baking the potatoes for 10 years, 240 pounds a month.
The couple also enlists the help of their grandchildren, Ashley Dean, 13, and Taylor Dean, 10, when they visit for several weeks in the summer or during holidays.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Veal agree that they get more out of their volunteer work than they put into it.
"I get a blessing out of it. I can feel bad when I go out there, and when I get in that door, I just feel good. I don't know why, but I get a bigger blessing out of it than they do," said Mr. Veal.
The couple also visit the residents in their rooms, listening to their stories and looking at their photographs. They are beautiful people and it's sad that many of them have been forgotten by their families, said Mr. Veal.
"You hug 'em. You tell them you love them. They understand it," he said. "And there's nothing more rewarding as when they tell you they love you."
The Veals, members of Prospect United Methodist Church for 65 years, consider many of the residents like family. They visit them when they're in the hospital and even attend their funerals.
"Every year I say this is my last year, but I guess I'll do it 'til the Lord calls me," said Mr. Veal.
Contact Karen Rohr at email@example.com