If you walk down the hallways of Oakmont Parkway and hear the faint whirring of a sewing machine, chances are it is Pauline – a 94-year-old resident who is all about giving back and staying busy. “I’m the kind [of person] that has to keep my hands busy, as a rule,” she said, smiling. “I always have to be doing something with my hands, and so when I heard a story about the little dresses for Africa, I got involved.”
The story she’s talking about is one of a Michigan woman, Rachel O’Neill, who visited Africa with her husband and was taken by the plight of the women and children in these impoverished nations. She knew she wanted to do something to help, and began a charitable effort that involved sewing small dresses and distributing them to families across the continent. This part-time hobby quickly grew, and Little Dresses for Africa ballooned to over eight million dresses and pairs of britches delivered to 84 countries – with more than 400 sewn by Pauline. “I think it’s remarkable,” Pauline said of LDFA’s success, “how one person can have an idea and it can mushroom and grow.”
Although Pauline does most of the sewing, she’s inspired her family and neighbors to contribute to the effort as well. Seniors from throughout Oakmont Parkway are readily contributing and donating to Pauline’s cause, offering up pillowcases, fabric, yarn, and encouraging words for her efforts.- which continue to help drive her. “I try to do at least one dress a day,” Pauline says, “and sometimes I can even do two.”
A Native Michigander
A native Michigander, Pauline grew up in Detroit with parents who came to the United States from Belgium. Her father worked at a local cemetery, and her mother helped run a small family flower farm next to their house. When the flowers were in bloom, the family would head down to Eastern Market and her mother would lead the effort to keep their customers satisfied. “My mother would spend all winter making the flats out of wood,” she remembered. “In those days, a flat of flowers had 15 boxes in it, and each box had four plants. My father once tried to put just three in a box thinking that it still looked full, and my mom said, ‘No! Four plants in a box,” she said, laughing.
Following the example of her hard-working and strong-willed mother, Pauline graduated grade school and went to high school – a concept that seemed foreign to her father. “He couldn’t understand why a woman had to go to high school. ‘She’s just going to get married and have children,’” she can remember him saying. “But my mother said, ‘No. In today’s times, she needs to go to a high school,” she recalled. “My mother was a very wise woman.”
After attending Pershing High School in Detroit, Pauline got a job keeping books for a local lumber yard, and it was there that she met her husband. They stayed in the Detroit area after being married, raising six children which have blossomed into a large family that now includes a great-great-grandchild. “I have a picture of five generations [of my family]. The firstborn was always a female, and so I have this special picture of five generations of girls. I have a really good family,” she said proudly.
When asked about why she loves living at Oakmont Parkway, Pauline was quick to respond. “I don’t have to worry about anything here. The staff are just nice people, and the kitchen staff is the best in the world.” And whether it be through visiting with family, sewing dresses, or participating in activities, you can bet that Pauline is keeping her hands busy at this very moment.