25 August 2023

How a South Coast centenarian received more than 600 birthday cards from across the globe

| Travis Radford
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Betty Winstone 100th.

Cards from around the world have continued to arrive at Betty’s aged care home in the weeks following her 100th birthday. Photo: Supplied.

Betty Winstone has celebrated her 100th birthday at a South Coast aged care home surrounded by no less than 623 birthday cards – and counting.

The celebration of the life-long Nowra resident and great grandmother’s century began as a relatively modest affair at the home where she lives.

Staff and Betty’s close family gathered around a birthday cake, some balloons and other decorations, but Anglicare’s Jean Ross House in South Nowra didn’t stop there.

“Betty’s having her 100th birthday. Can’t we organise a little bit more?” Jean Ross House lifestyle coordinator Cordilla Valenzuele remembers asking her colleagues.

In the conversation that followed, a daring idea to organise 100 cards to celebrate Betty’s 100th birthday was hatched, along with a contingency plan. Each of the 70 staff members would make a card if they couldn’t reach their goal.

When Betty’s daughter Megan Brown was told the idea, her first thought was, “They’ll never make it because nobody knows Mum to send her a card, only the immediate family.”

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But both Megan and the aged care home put aside their doubts. Megan shared the idea with her family and a local Facebook group, while the aged care home issued a public call-out.

Before long, the posts began to spread across state lines. “I was contacted by two people I grew up with who lived in Canberra and they said, ‘Is this your mom?'” Megan says.

Soon afterwards, the call-out was reposted in a Canberra community group. That post alone has been shared more than 70 times to people’s personal Facebook profiles.

“It just went gangbusters,” Megan remembers. “100th birthday cards with the actual 100 on them, I believe they sold-out in Nowra, which was hilarious.”

By the week before Betty’s birthday, Cordilla and the other staff at Jean Ross House realised they would not only meet but vastly exceed their goal of 100 birthday cards.

“Everyone was very excited and pleased. It was moving the community could be so caring and giving,” Jean Ross House operations manager Sally-Ann Meili explains. “All of our staff here, this is their family, and we treat everyone like our family. So, 100 years is a big milestone for anyone and anyone celebrating 100 years at Jean Ross House is going to have a big celebration.”

Cards arrived from across Australia, Europe, New Zealand, Asia and the US, penned by everyone from an eight-year-old girl to a 98-year-old woman.

Several dignitaries also sent birthday wishes to Betty, including King Charles, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, NSW Premier Chris Minns and NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles.

“She was really, really humbled. She [has dementia but] understood very clearly what was going on. She had two of her grandchildren reading the cards to her,” Megan says.

“She laughed at every card and then she’d say, ‘Do I know that person?’ and we’d say, ‘No, but isn’t it lovely they sent a card? and she’d say, ‘Oh, that’s so nice.'”

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Megan says some of the most precious letters came from anonymous local schoolchildren. “They must be like two- or three-year-olds, just little ones that can’t read or write, and the teacher had asked them, ‘What would you like to ask Betty?'” Megan says. “There were things like, ‘Do you have a dog? Do you eat chocolate? Are you going to die?’ Questions that only kids would ask.

“Mum just thought it was the funniest thing ever. She laughed and laughed. It was very funny.”

Many of the children also sent paintings and one person even gave Betty a crocheted rug she had made for the 100th birthday of her own mum, who sadly never reached the milestone.

Megan thanked Jean Ross House for making the day possible. “They really care,” she says. “They are an exceptional nursing home. It’s beautiful. We’re very, very grateful and we’re very lucky.”

Original Article published by Travis Radford on Region Illawarra.

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