Sheltering in place: Many older Cooke County residents still at home

Doris Hargesheimer of Hibbit celebrates her 96th birthday recently during a drive-in party at her church, Hibbit Baptist.

As their younger counterparts venture out to work or patronize reopened businesses, many Cooke County seniors continue to stay home to protect themselves from the coronavirus, living alone or with family in isolated, rural areas.

Doris Hargesheimer recently celebrated her 96th birthday. She lives on top of a hill in Hibbit, north of Callisburg in rural northeast Cooke County. While her routine has not been greatly disrupted by the virus, the closing of her church, Hibbit Baptist, has impacted her most. The church continues to hold “drive-in” services, but she must stay in the car and misses her church community. The church also hosted her birthday party.

“It was nice because I was honored for my birthday, but it was very different,” she said. “We were in church and in our vehicles and that was something I had never been through.”

“I’ve always been in charge,” she continued.

She is more concerned about falling than catching COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, because her property is set on very bumpy terrain. She uses a cane, but “hates” it and often leaves it where she can’t find it.

“I’ve already fallen at time or two,” Hargesheimer said. Jalise Middleton of Angels Care Home Health said a significantly higher incidence of falls has been reported.

For now, with the help of daughter Darla Barr and son-in-law Tom Barr, Muenster chief of police, who live next door, she spends her time ridding her home of clutter, chatting with out-of-town family through her screen door and gazing as the sun sets over her property, pets and farm animals as she has done for the past 40 years.

According to statistics provided by the U.S. census for 2019, about 19% of Cooke County’s roughly 42,300 citizens are 65 and older, like Hargesheimer. While the state and county implement a four-phase reopening, Gainesville’s senior center, the Stanford House, is exercising caution. As of press time Thursday, the nonprofit remained closed as its board meets weekly to access the safety of its staff and members.

“The pandemic has put a large emotional strain on our seniors,” said Stanford House Executive Director Kathi Kirby Husereau. “Many rely on the Stanford house for their socialization. Some have little to no family, and their peers at the Stanford house has become like family to them.”

A Stanford House regular, Diane Chambers, 78, said she misses that family. She employs yoga breathing techniques and tai chi to stay centered and healthy. For now, she exercises alone at home and adheres to a holistic “prescription free” lifestyle. But the Stanford House and Gainesville Yoga Center, which closed during the pandemic’s spread in Texas, were her social anchors.

“I will feel so much better when they open the Stanford House,” she said.

Chambers takes shadow boxing, tai chi and line dancing at the senior center. While she meditates three times a day at home and continues her daily exercise regime, she would prefer to do it in the company of her friends and staff at Stanford House.

“I have no fears about getting up and down, so I can’t imagine not being able to get up after,” she said. “I don’t dwell on it. I think life will return, and it will be so nice to exercise and talk with someone else ‘back home,’” referring to the Stanford House.

Husereau noted that “without those activities, I would expect there have been physical declines in some of our seniors that use this as therapy to stay active.”

The state stay-at-home order issued April 1 by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott affected 5.7 million senior citizens considered the most at-risk population for the coronavirus. While shelter-at-home restrictions expired April 30, Abbott “strongly” encouraged Texans age 65 and older to remain at home as much as possible in an April 27 news conference. He also emphasized that organizations may remain closed until they feel it is safe.

County Judge Jayson Brinkley and Gainesville Mayor Jim Goldsworthy recommend that residents continue to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safe social distancing guidelines as the local economy reboots.

“This will be a gradual process, but the more we collectively work together the quicker that process will move,” a joint city-county statement said.

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