Home Team volunteers offer just enough help

GUARDIAN 'ANGELS' WATCH OVER ELDERLY

June 29, 1993|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Staff Writer

On a warm, sunny June day, Dick O'Malley did something nice for his fellow man. He handed Philbert Ridgely a freshly grilled hamburger.

"Ketchup?" he asked.

"Just a touch," said Mr. Ridgely, an 87-year-old man with one eye, 1 1/2 feet, and a tattoo on his left arm that he got at Carlin's Park more years ago than he can remember.

Then Mr. Ridgely and his sister, Annie Bull, 84, sat back to enjoy the view -- and their hamburgers and chips -- at Piney Run Park in Eldersburg. Mr. O'Malley and his wife, Helen, had taken them there for a lakeside picnic.

Mr. and Mrs. O'Malley are members of the Home Team program, sponsored by the Baltimore County Department of Aging. They, and 500 other volunteers, spend two to four hours a week with homebound elderly citizens who sometimes need little more than a kind word, but usually much more.

Some volunteers fix meals. Others just call, or visit, or take their wards to the grocery store, doctor and bank.

"Some have actually saved lives," says Judy Landis, the program's creator and supervisor. "One elderly woman, a diabetic, fell in her tub recently, and if it hadn't been for a volunteer who came to call, she might still be there."

The program's purpose is to help the elderly stay in their homes and apartments with some semblance of independence, Ms. Landis said. County residents 60 years and older are eligible to receive help.

At the park, Mr. Ridgely tested his hamburger, his one eye squinting against the sun from under a broad-brimmed straw hat, and smiled. "I like them pretty good done," he said.

"I think Philbert's had a hard life, but he hangs in there," said Mr. O'Malley, 59, a retired AT&T personnel director. "He was found on the street several years ago, and traced to his sister. He lost part of his foot to frostbite."

Mr. Ridgely and Ms. Bull now live together in a subsidized apartment in Randallstown. They subsist on small Social Security checks and a $61-a-month pension from a now-defunct mill in Oella, where Ms. Bull worked as a weaver for more than 30 years.

"Most people ignore someone like Philbert. He was in a shell when we met him four years ago," Mr. O'Malley said. "He's come out of it, and likes to talk to people everywhere he goes."

Mr. Ridgely worked at a variety of jobs, including a sawmill where he lost his eye to a splinter. He also worked at a farm where, he says, he talked to the horses. "I'd tell them to stand still, and they would," he said.

Ms. Bull hasn't been well, but her ailments seemed to drift away in the soft summer breeze. She smiled for a photographer and said she was feeling better.

"They appreciate everything you do for them," Mr. O'Malley said. "Annie will say, 'I want to treat you to a soda today,' and reach for her money."

"Philbert can't read or write, and to my knowledge, he's never driven a car," Mr. O'Malley said, "but he has more dignity than ever, he remembers things better, he's curious, and he's always asking us about our family with real concern.

"Annie is unhappy that she has lost her independence and has to depend on other people, but she looks out for Philbert," he said.

"Philbert had never been in a library until I took him recently, and he was fascinated with an illustrated Bible," Mr. O'Malley said. "All he wants is a little attention and a couple dollars in his pocket. He's been ignored all his life. Now he says, whatever the problem, 'Dick'll take care of me'."

Mutual admiration

Peggy Coleman says much the same about Ruth Meade, a retired schoolteacher. Mrs. Meade and husband, Fay, monitor Ms. Coleman's well-being.

Ms. Coleman, 87, is the youngest of nine children. She no longer has a family and lives in an apartment in Catonsville. Except for visits and calls from Mrs. Meade, she is isolated. "Can you imagine being 87 and having no family?" Mrs. Meade says. "I don't think she could manage without help."

Says Ms. Coleman: "Ruth is my angel. I love her, and you can't go any higher than that."

Ms. Coleman grew up in Walbrook and worked as an operator for the C&P Telephone Co. for 45 years. Between her pension and Social Security, she gets $1,000 a month, just enough for her to get by.

"She used her life savings to care for a sister who had cancer," Mrs. Meade said.

Once a week, Mrs. Meade treats Ms. Coleman to a pancake breakfast. She also takes her to the store and the doctor, and recently bought her a radio so she could listen to Orioles games.

"Peggy has a great sense of humor, real Irish wit, and she's still spry, but fragile," Mrs. Meade says. "But she just hates it that she had to give up control of her life."

Says Ms. Coleman, who never married, "Now all I can do is complain to my angel."

Help is close at hand

Amelio Morotti is 82 and still in full control of his life. He and his wife, Helen, live in Dundalk and look out for Emma Pecora, 87, a native of Sicily who lives in a nearby apartment house.

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