Paris, France – also known as “the city of love” – is home to more than just romance.
Although most people might associate Paris with thoughts of a romantic vacation – gazing at sunsets painted behind a silhouette of the Eiffel Tower, sharing a five-star meal at Le Coulaincourt or touring the world-renowned Louvre – Renee McCarley thinks of Paris as home.
Renee, a resident at Life Care Center of Post Falls, Idaho, was born in 1928 in the German Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine bordering Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. She lived in France during its temporary collapse in 1940 as a result of World War II, and immigrated to America at the age of 16 during the war with her newlywed husband Willie Moe.
After coming to America, Renee and Willie came to Lewiston, Idaho. Together, they had four beautiful children named Jack, Claudette, Annette and Cindy Lou. However, after Willie died of a heart attack a few years later, she remarried to her second husband, Doyle McCarley. Though life continued to move forward for Renee, she never forgot her French roots and dreamed of returning to visit France and its capital city again one day with her family.
Jan Miller, the admissions coordinator at Life Care Center of Post Falls, knew of this dream and decided to help make it become a reality for Renee’s 90th birthday. With the help of the staff at Life Care Center of Post Falls and Garden Plaza of Post Falls, Jan planned an extravagant birthday celebration for Renee themed, “an evening in France.”
“I saw her one day – I always give her big hugs – and I asked her how she was doing. She said, ‘Not well,’ because her birthday was coming up. She said that it was her dream to go back to Paris with her family, and she was afraid she wasn’t going to get to go back. It just tugged at my heart, so I came back to my office and thought, ‘Well, she might not be able to go to France, but we can sure bring France to her,’” said Jan.
Jan collaborated with the staff to coordinate every detail of the celebration. Wendy Lebsack, the lifestyles coordinator at Garden Plaza of Post Falls, also helped to coordinate the venue and décor for the event.
“When Jan mentioned her idea, I thought, ‘Wow, now that’s really what this is all about!’” said Lebsack. “We have a lot of themed dinners over here at Garden Plaza, so getting on board with helping was easy.”
The celebration was held at Garden Plaza, featuring live music, authentic French cuisine and even posters with pictures of France beautifully displayed around the room to create the ambiance.
“I asked Wendy if there was a room we could use to host the dinner and if she had some decorations to contribute,” said Jan. “I just wanted it to be as much like France as possible. I even found a picture of a man and woman kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that looks just like Renee and what she might have been like at that age! She’s a real romantic.’”
Matt Hale, the chef at Garden Plaza, also contributed by making a delectable French dinner of chicken cordon bleu, fettuccini and squash to give everyone a little taste of France.
“It was delicious!” said Jan. “Renee said it was wonderful, and that she had never seen anything that looked like that.”
To surprise Renee, her daughter, Annette, brought her down from her room under the impression that she had a meeting with someone.
“I asked Annette, ‘Where are we going?’ and she said, ‘We are going to meet somebody,’” said Renee. “When she opened the door and I saw my family, friends and the picture of Paris, something happened in my heart. I wanted to know who set up the dinner, and they told me it was Jan.”
Upon seeing the birthday celebration held in her honor and her dream of returning to Paris brought to life, Renee was speechless.
“She was very surprised,” said Jan. “She started crying, and so of course we all started crying. I was just bawling! But it was beautiful, and all I hoped it would be.”
Renee agreed that the party truly captured the spirit of Paris.
“France is a romantic place,” said Renee. “Mostly if you’re young, and walk along the river Siene with somebody you love – there’s nothing like it. I can’t explain it. When you see France – and the picture of the Eiffel Tower – something happens in your heart.”
Renee also added that she was very grateful to Jan for planning her celebration.
“All my thanks to Jan, she did such a wonderful job!” said Renee. “It made me cry. There’s no way I could ever thank her for what she did for me.”