Note: This story is brought to you by Camelot Rehabilitation.
Violet Cheramie LeBlanc is a typical Southern belle.
She’s beautiful, charming and has a smile that lights up the room.
Each morning, she picks out an outfit, applies her makeup and has coffee with one of her daughters before hours of exercise, socializing with friends, catching up with family, and dancing – if she’s in the mood.
Miss Violet, who grew up “down the bayou” near Grand Isle, now lives in Lafayette and is very popular within her community.
It seems this woman has mastered the art of living life to the fullest – and that’s not surprising, considering how much time she’s had to work out the kinks.
Violet is 103 years old and has no plans to slow down. But recently, she gave her family quite the scare.
“We all thought the end was near,” says Marguerite Lormand, Violet’s 67-year-old daughter. “But then everything turned around.”
On March 27, Violet moved into Camelot Rehabilitation at Magnolia Park, a skilled nursing facility that’s focused on senior care. Each day, she receives various therapies while recounting her colorful past. Strolling down memory lane is key to keeping Violet full of life – and the caretakers at Camelot are eager to keep hearing about her incredible journey.
Life in the middle of the bay
Violet’s father was an oysterman and moved the family to a house in the middle of Bay de Duce in 1916. Years later, they relocated to Cut Off, where Violet attended school with her siblings. Her father opened a grocery store and established the first barber shop, butcher shop, dance pavilion and pool hall.
Violet recalls her childhood home being filled with lots of people, food and love, and things were great until the Great Depression hit.
In 1931, her family lost everything and was forced to start over.
They moved further down the bayou to the gates of Grand Isle and opened a business, which Violet named K.C. Cheramie’s Fisherman’s Paradise.
Just as things were turning around, however, her mother fell ill, and Violet had to take over many of her responsibilities.
Life was hectic – but Violet forged ahead. At 21, she moved to Delcambre and met her future husband, Alcee LeBlanc.
“The story of how my parents got together is funny,” Marguerite says with a laugh. “My dad thought he was marrying into money, and Mom says she married him because her mother said he was her last chance.”
Violet gave birth to seven children, and not surprisingly, dedicated much of her life to her faith and building an incredible family home.
“My mother was amazing,” Marguerite says. “We always had a hot meal in the morning, at night, and she was a very hard worker. Growing up in Lafayette, we went to parades, played outside, and went to the drive-in movie theater. My mom would always make us lemonade and have popcorn ready. We just had a fun, loving upbringing … we weren’t well off, but she always made us feel like we had everything we needed.”
After tragedy, finding a new normal
In 1985, Alcee died from a massive heart attack. Two years later, Violet went through a rough patch – and her children rallied, just as she did for them.
“Mom wanted people around her a lot,” Marguerite says. “But when she came out of it, she was stronger than ever before. She was social again, she was traveling with relatives. And right after that, we promised that we would take her to the beach every summer – because that was her thing. She loved going to the beach. For 29 years, all the girls would go, and those were some of our most memorable moments.”
For decades, Violet thrived and found a new “normal.” She was very involved at St. Jules Catholic Church and made a close group of friends. She did water aerobics with them until turning 98 and drove until age 92. About six years ago, though, Violet’s health began to decline.
“She started getting a lot of urinary tract infections, so we had someone come sit with her for a few hours each day,” Marguerite explains. “But eventually, Mom decided that she no longer wanted to live on her own.”
Violet has spent the last four years in different assisted-living facilities and didn’t land at Camelot until her recent health scare.
“She had congestive heart failure,” Marguerite says. “And things didn’t look good. When she got to Camelot on March 27, she was sleeping all day, had lots of fluid on her lungs and was on oxygen. But a few days later, she made a turn, so they decided to start therapy. And when I got there the next morning, she was smiling.”
From there, Marguerite says, it’s been smooth sailing – and her mother’s electrifying personality is once again shining through.
“I just got a picture of her from one of the therapists,” she adds. “Mom’s sitting up in her wheelchair, on the porch in the sunshine, smiling and just ready to start her day. She can now walk around, and she’s even gotten up to dance with the girls. Everyone has been so good to my mother and they tell me they just love her to death because she’s so sweet and full of smiles … they hug and kiss her every morning, and Mom has no complaints.”
Marguerite is grateful to the staff at Camelot for being patient, but encouraging, with Violet’s recovery. They push her to work hard, while using her personality and interests as motivation.
‘I want to be like her when I’m 103’
Chelsie Huval, rehabilitation director at Camelot, says that getting to know patients on a personal level really causes them to thrive.
“We meet weekly to discuss progress, patient needs, and we talk to the families about goals and how to meet those expectations,” she explains. “For Miss Violet, it was finding things she loves and incorporating that into therapy. Certain people here resemble people from her past. She thinks I look like one of her old sitters, for example, so when she sees us, she gets motivated and excited to do things. For Miss Violet, I think coming to therapy is a social outlet she might not have had before. She sits on the mat and throws balls to others, and she has found a lot of friends … I want to be like her when I’m 103 years old. She’s such a kind person, and she always brightens our day when she walks in.”
According to Chelsie, Violet is an inspiration to other patients and brings life to any room she enters.
“They want to do better, to push themselves more,” she explains. “To have the physical and cognitive abilities Miss Violet has at her age is amazing. She dances with the therapists, the staff members, and she taught us how to play Crazy Eights. She’s just an amazing person.”
Violet’s daughter echoes that sentiment.
“Mom’s just happy with her life, and we don’t have to worry about anything,” Marguerite says. “She is so well taken care of, and the people are just like family to us. Those who saw her at her worst can’t believe she’s able to do what she’s doing now … she’s lived a very full life.”
For more information about Camelot Rehabilitation at Magnolia Park, visit www.camelotseniorliving.com.