Free phone calls 'let happiness ring'

December 24, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- Without hesitation, Peggy Phelps, a retired factory worker, marched into Montevue Home, sat down at a makeshift phone booth and "let happiness ring" yesterday.

The 71-year-old Frederick woman has visited the county-owned home for assisted living "at least five times" during the past two weeks to call friends and relatives in Louisiana, Nebraska, California, Tennessee, West Virginia and North Carolina -- all free.

She is among the hundreds of Frederick County residents who have taken advantage of some holiday charity -- free phone calls to any town in the continental United States -- from Lincoln National Corp., which operates a regional office in Frederick.

"My husband and I are both retired and live on a fixed income," Mrs. Phelps said. "Money is tight. I think this program is great. I've been calling people I normally might not call."

Lincoln National's "Let Happiness Ring" program offers senior citizens, 60 years and older, the opportunity to make as many long-distance calls as they wish at no cost. The firm provides the holiday service in six cities throughout the country.

In Frederick County, three phone lines have been set up at Montevue Home and at the Frederick County Senior Citizens Center. Volunteers are on hand to help the elderly place phone calls. The 4-year-old program, which began Dec. 14, ends today.

"Let Happiness Ring" is the firm's effort to give something back to the community, said Gayla Magnus, an administrative secretary.

"With families scattered throughout the country, the season is especially lonely for elderly citizens," Ms. Magnus said. " 'Let Happiness Ring' is designed to bridge the miles separating families and their loved ones."

Last year, some 1,400 calls were made from the Frederick sites at a cost of about $3,000 to Lincoln National.

Nationwide, about 23,000 phone calls were logged, she said.

"It's not a matter of money," she said. "It's a matter of bridging the gap."

Each Christmas, 90-year-old Marie Wroblewski, a former Baltimore resident who now lives at Montevue Home, calls her son in Colorado. She has not seen him in 18 years.

"It's really nice," Mrs. Wroblewski said of the program. "It really is. My son usually writes to me, but he never calls here. I got a card from him. He wanted to come over the holidays, but his doctor wouldn't let him."

Faye Bevard, director of resident services at Montevue, said many residents use the phones to call friends and relatives they normally couldn't afford to call. Residents, she said, do not have phones in their rooms but have access to a single pay phone in the home.

"I think it really does something for their well being to reach out and touch old friends at this time of the year," she said.

For Dewey Hess, a 63-year-old Montevue resident, the "Let Happiness Ring" program provides the only opportunity for him to phone his son in New York.

"It's the only time I call him, because it costs too much to call him any other time," Mr. Hess said. "He calls me, but he has more money than I do."

Doris Crone, 63, of Frederick stopped by to see her brother, Earl, at Montevue Home yesterday and called a former roommate in Baltimore and an aunt in Charles Town, W.Va.

"While I was here I thought I'd make a few calls," she said. "I think it's a great idea for them to let people do this. A lot of these older people probably can't afford to make calls for friends or relatives. This gives them a chance to talk to people they normally wouldn't be able to."

This yuletide's free calls may be the last, though.

Ms. Magnus said Lincoln National Life Insurance Co.'s Group Benefits Center in Frederick is closing early next year.

Lincoln National has sold its group benefits operation to another firm, which is closing several offices, including the one in Frederick, she said.

"We will no longer be here," Ms. Magnus said. "The program won't be either unless another corporation decides to pick it up. There's plenty of corporations around here."

"It's too bad," she added. "It's a good program. I'm sorry it's leaving."

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