Guidance proves prophetic
By Mae Waugh
Nestled in Meiners Oaks,West
Oaks Personal Care Home, can be hard to find.
Established in 1988, West Oaks
is owned by Tee Downard and her family, and is a home where people
with strong character and frail bodies live. "It's like
being at home, except you don't have to work," says Rita
Beth, a current guest at West Oaks. Downard takes five elderly
people, who could not live independently, into her home and supplies
them with their own furnished bedroom, bathroom, exceptional
grounds, and a dedicated staff.
"It is an honor to be able to take a frail someone and
bring them into my home and my heart, and offer them a positive
environment," says Downard. "The best reward is when
my guests tell their family and friends that they are very happy
here. That is when I know I have succeeded."
When she was a student at Nordhoff High School, Downard did not
know what she wanted to do with her life. Blair LaRue, Downard's
guidance counselor, was concerned about Downard's reading skills
and future after graduation. LaRue asked Downard one question,
"What is your passion?" Downard answered, "Being
creative with my mom's hair and my job at the O-Hi Frostie."
From this answer, LaRue derived that a career in cosmetology
could be the answer for Downard and set it in motion by collecting
scholarships for her.
Downard succeeded as a beautician and worked as one for 12 years.
She married her husband, Gary, in 1973 and began working as a
caring neighbor and hospice volunteer under the leadership of
Susie Salguero from Little House. With Downard's caring personality
and friendly nature, the elders she helped became smitten with
her, and in 1986, a woman from Lomita Lodge asked if she could
come and live with Downard. Salguero encouraged Downard to take
the woman in, and because Downard was remodeling her house and
more room became available, West Oaks was born and officially
opened on Nov. 4, 1988.
During the past 15 years, 45 people have stayed at West Oaks,
two of them were men, and all of them left an impact on Downard.
"The two men were very different," recalls Downard,
"One had been a bachelor all of his life, and the other
had seven daughters, but both made great heads at the end of
the dinner table."
"Blair LaRue has been so instrumental in my life,"
says Downard, "and hers is just a typical Ojai story."
In 2001, LaRue had a stroke and only partially recovered, with
severe loss of speech. She went to go live with her son to be
cared for, but one day she took out the phone book, circled Downard's
name, and told her son she wanted to go and stay with Downard.
"I was so appreciative of all that Blair had done for me,
steering me towards beauty school, helping me find scholarships,
I gladly welcomed her back," says Downard.
The Ojai Valley News
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