For the past 16 years, 70-year-old Jeanette Alessio-Way--also called "The History Lady" and "lady with the stuff"--has been giving up to 85 entertaining presentations every month in southern California at senior residences, social-service organizations and similar venues. Her presentations are unique because every talk commemorates the people, places, events and cultural trivia associated with a specific month.
For most of her adult life, she has been assembling a virtual warehouse of antiques, collectibles and memorabilia for her talks. To prepare for one, she might spend up to a week selecting them, then dutifully packs them in plastic boxes, puts them in her extended SUV and drives up to 300 miles a day, seven days a week, to unload and wheel them into each of her scheduled venues... and some of these items weigh up to 50 lbs!
In her talks, she never uses notes; everything is from memory. Some people come out of their rooms only on the days that she visits for her presentations because it's one of the few times that they feel a sense of excitement.
A lifelong resident of San Diego, she feels a special calling to enrich the lives of those challenged by age and failing health. So, she has committed herself to enlighten and entertain seniors in retirement communities, nursing homes and Alzheimer’s facilities.
She got involved with this in 1994 when she had to put her mother in a residential facility after she was diagnosed with dementia. Because they couldn’t afford the expenses, Jeanette helped her mother get a federal scholarship and volunteered to develop activities for the residents.
One day, she got an inspiration: "I borrowed two hula skirts, grabbed a cousin's surfboard and ukulele, and wore a bra made of two coconut shells outside my clothes,” she explains. “For one hour, I did a history of Hawaii, and nobody moved a muscle. It was so successful that I decided to do more presentations like that. That event changed my life completely."
I met The History Lady about two years ago while visiting my 99-year-old mother at her senior residence in Encinitas, CA, and have attended two of Jeanette's presentations. She is an amazing person, and the blurb above tells only a small part of her fascinating story.
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