Mary Anne Oglesby And The Veranda

IMG_7593_fBy Dixie Phillips

Mary Anne Oglesby started her nursing career determined to touch the lives  of those God called her to serve. She accomplished her goal. This compassionate nurse is leaving eternal footprints in the souls of her patients and their families, but she also insists they have impacted her life. “I knew I wanted to bless others, but what I wasn’t expecting was how my patients would bless me. They have changed me forever!”

A few minutes in Mary Anne’s presence and you realize she is fulfilling her divine destiny. “God has called me to serve the elderly.”

In a self-absorbed society, Mary Anne’s selfless heart is a rare find. Her life exemplifies the timeless biblical truth Jesus taught, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” How did a little girl grow into such a beautiful handmaiden of the Lord, dedicated to serving?

“I was raised in a home where being respectful of my elders was no option, and Sunday was for the Lord,” Mary Anne explained. Grandparents were a staple force in Mary Anne’s young life. “I spent most of the summers with both sets of my grandparents. My love for the elderly began with them. My grandmothers taught me to cook, clean, apply makeup, and dress, but best of all they taught me who Jesus was.”

Mary Anne shared a special bond with “Little Mama,” her maternal grandmother. Little Mama mirrored a vibrant faith. “She read the Bible to me at night and taught me what it meant to be a Christian.,” Mary Anne recalled.  “She had a way of making Bible stories come alive. My parents taught me about Jesus, too, but Little Mama and I shared a special closeness. Her love and wisdom instilled so many of biblical characteristics I still practice today. She set in motion my spiritual journey. I will always be grateful she cared enough about me to teach
me the ways of the Lord.”

Little Mama and her sisters sang all the time. Mary Anne will never forget when she began hearing parts for the first time. “Little Mama and her sisters were singing hymns and I could pick out the parts.” As a child, Mary Anne thought she would have a music ministry. As she grew, she traveled and sang part-time. “Singing has always been a part of my life, and it has paved the way for what I am doing today. So many of the friends I have today were met during those travels. Looking back now, I smile as I realize their place in this journey I’m on now. Those relationships weren’t a coincidence. God already had them in store for me.” Mary Anne connected the dots and discovered God’s fingerprints all over her life and relationships. “I’m eternally grateful for the “kingdom connections” God has provided.”

Mary Anne worked as a nurse in a family practice in Texas. Her experiences there developed a deep love and compassion for senior adults and those affected by Alzheimer’s. “At this point in my career there wasn’t all the data and information about the disease that is available now.”

A horrific accident deepened Mary Anne’s understanding of this dreaded disease. “We had a little lady who was killed in an accident because she was driving down the wrong side of the road. She didn’t have any family close by, and no one understood her situation. Many thought she was just “crazy.” I’ve never had, nor still have, anyone in my family with Alzheimer’s, but God has given me this burden for those families who are lost in their journeys. Believe me, they are just as lost as their loved ones. However, they are lost in a different direction— unsure of what steps to take next in caring for their loved ones.”

Mary Anne studied more about the disease. She attended every class she could find on the subject. “There was not a lot of information back then, but I read anything I could find to gain knowledge about the disease. My heart broke for the families. There was nothing then to help them. It was just terrible. I made a conscious decision to do something about it. I prayed and asked the Lord to open doors for me.”

One of the biggest challenges Mary Anne faced was the lack of ministry resources in the church for families walking the Alzheimer’s journey. “The church didn’t have anything for its members to draw from. It was a defining moment for me. I knew the church had to step up because of these families.”

God birthed The Veranda, a ministry to help families struggling with Alzheimer’s, in Mary Anne’s tender heart. “As a group of believers, we should be on the forefront of helping our people. Most churches don’t have much to offer when families are on this type of journey. The Veranda is built on the premise of loving our clients where they are. We go to their world. They never come to ours because they can’t. Families need the church more than ever, but most times they are overlooked because the church would have to go to them. Many times churches expect them to come to us. That’s how The Veranda ministers to families—we serve them where they are.”

Mary Anne takes the Call earnestly. “God gives us no options. We are commanded to take care of our elders. It was a big enough deal to God that we honor our parents. He even made it one of His 10 commandments. One day while studying to prepare for speaking at a conference, I was convicted about the story of Jesus on the cross. As He was dying, Jesus made provision for His mother. He looked down and told John to take care of His mother. To me, that’s one of the first documented examples of caring for our parents. While in agony for our sins, Jesus made sure His mother would be taken care of after He was gone. I realized the role of caregiver is that important to Him.”

Although the ministry was birthed in Mary Anne’s heart, she knew God had to be in every step or it would fail. Her longtime friend, Steve Hurst, became Worship Pastor at College Heights Baptist Church. Mary Anne assisted Steve with the music, and discovered her pastor’s father had Alzheimer’s. She knew the church had room for a program. God was working behind the scenes and Mary Anne knew it when she met Julia Ellis. “I became a caregiver for this wonderful lady. We grew to love each other like family.”JuliaAEllis_2 copy

Julia and Mary Anne had many long talks about the specific issues withgrowing old. They talked frequently about, as Julia called it, “The Project.” They saw firsthand the increasing need for a ministry to help families caring for their senior loved ones. When Julia passed away, she left Mary Anne money to start “The Project” and funds to live for one year. “All I needed was a place for “The Project” to call home. Debra Talley, Debbie Bennett, Gary Casto and Tribute, Steve Hurst, and myself starting praying.”

The answer was right before Mary Anne’s eyes—in the church where she was helping serve. “College Heights had all those rooms that were vacant all week long.” When Mary Anne spoke with her Pastor, he saw the need and asked her to speak to the deacons, trustees, and staff about her vision. She did and they allagreed. The Project—”The Veranda”—had a home.

The Veranda celebrated its one-year anniversary of serving clients and their families this past August. They started with three clients in 2012, and recently had 16. “We do charge a nominal fee for the program, but no one is turned away if they are unable to pay the full amount. We review their situation and use fundsfrom The Julia Ellis Scholarship, if necessary. We strictly rely on donations for our operating expenses, and the church provides the facilities. My staff is volunteer- based, and when it comes to service, we have the best staff of volunteers you couldask for. In our first year, we logged more than 3,500 volunteer hours with The Veranda. I have been in non-profit work a long time and that amount of volunteer time is great for our small group. College Heights’ Sunday school bring lunch to us every Thursday. It’s just amazing how great our church has been to our mission.God truly has blessed our efforts.”

The Veranda is a congregational respite program, not a medical adult day care. They are an activity-based program, giving families a much-needed break, four hours a day, to do normal things. They provide a monthly support group for the families, making sure their needs are taken care of. “Our families have bonded. The ladies especially have a kindred spirit with each other. After the first threemonths, I received a card from one of our families. She said, “Thank you so much for The Veranda. For the first time in five years, I got to go buy a bra.” I wasstunned. I had never thought of that before. We take the freedom to go and buy essentials for granted. She couldn’t take her husband into Dillard’s and set him in the dressing room with her. She couldn’t leave him alone out in the store, so sheprayed that something would come along and help her. The Veranda met that need for her.”

Mary Anne and her volunteers are committed to coming beside families and providing moral and physical support for them in the day-to-day struggles of Alzheimer’s. “We have a lady who moved here from California. She holds a master’s degree and can speak more than 15 languages. All of those fluencies are about gone now. She was depressed because of the move to Tennessee and a newplace to live. After she had lost her husband, her physician became concerned. Somehow they heard about The Veranda, and this dear woman started coming.

During her first three-month check-up, the physician couldn’t believe it. Her entiredisposition had totally changed. He asked her what brought it on. Despite a tangled up brain, she coherently said, “The Veranda.””

Mary Anne isn’t the only one in love with the ministry. Clients love it, too. They feel cherished and nurtured at The Veranda. “The clients have formed relationships, friends of like minds. They know each other even if they don’tremember each other’s names.”

“Tall Man” was Mary Anne’s first client at The Veranda. In the beginning, Tall Man was full of great stories. He was the catalyst for the volunteers and told them about Barren Plains, Tennessee, the place where he grew up. Tall Man shared about all the creeks, fishing, his buddies, and a special place that was the hub of Barren Plains called “Sid Barrows’ Store.” “After hearing so much about this special place, I asked Tall Man if he wanted to go back to Barren Plains and show us his hometown. He gave a quick nod and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. We loaded up our church bus and headed to Barren Plains. It truly was like the movie “Trip to Bountiful.” It was one last lookat a life that was quickly disappearing. The staff and volunteers were crying. We stopped at a diner. I asked the manager if he knew where Barren Plains was. He told us we had arrived.”

Mary Anne inched closer to him and asked, “Well, do you know where Sid Barrows’ Store might be?”The manager laughed, “You are standing in it!” Tears trickled down Mary Anne’s cheeks. At that point Tall Man realized hehad come home. “We have pictures of Tall Man beside the old sign. We were all crying, exceptfor Tall Man. He was grinning from ear-to-ear. It was incredible. That’s what The Veranda is about. Even though Tall Man’s brain was tangled all up, he knew in his heart he was home. It was a very rewarding day.”

Holidays are special at The Veranda. They have a huge Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for clients and their families. “We make sure the spouses receive a gift from their loved ones so they can have some normalcy in their lives during the holidays.”

The Veranda’s main fundraiser is a dinner theater, which will be Tuesday, December 3. “It is held in the gym at College Heights Baptist Church. It’s a grand evening, including Christmas music and a plated dinner with all the trimmings.” Mary Anne realized she couldn’t carry on this much-needed ministry without the help of other Christian leaders. She visited with some of her Southern Gospel friends about The Veranda and was blessed by their generous support. “Gary Casto and Tribute had the idea for a dinner theater last year, and we set out on a mission. Tribute, Scott Fowler and Trey Ivey of Legacy Five, Roger and Debra Talley, Rebecca Little and Declaration all participated in the first dinner theater. Anthony Davis of Tribute and Rebecca Little of The Littles prepared each dessert by hand, and all of the artists served tables. It was a wonderful night, and we are looking forward to this year’s event. We know it will be wonderful, too.”

IMG_5104_fThis year’s theme is “A Christmas to Remember” and will be reminiscent of the Christmases our clients may have had during their childhood. The evening will include performances by Tribute Quartet, Declaration, The Littles, Rhonda Frye and Riverside, Debra Talley, Ann Downing, Larry Buchanan, and Mary Anne. The Festival of Pianos will include Larry Buchanan, Josh Singletary, and Steve Hurst. Tickets are $25 per person and a table for eight is $200. “We sold out last year, and it looks as though this year will be no different!”

Mary Anne also believes in providing music for her clients. “Music soothes the soul. My sweet people still have a soul and gospel music is a balm for their tangled up brain. We also play the Gaither videos for our clients. They love to sing and listen to the songs of faith on the piano. If someone is having a hard day, we stop and go to the piano and start playing and singing. The entire mood changes in the verse of a song. The worship begins. You will see hands that can no longer use a pencil begin to worship. Tears will roll down their cheeks. They are communicating in a world that they no longer know, but He understands them completely. The part of the heart that the Lord designed for worship is still beating. There is always a song there. It’s my job to find it.”

Debra Talley, Mary Anne’s friend of 20-plus years, knows firsthand what a ministry like The Veranda can mean to Alzheimer’s families because her father-in-law suffered with dementia and her mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Mary Anne shared her dream with Deb. “She prayed and believed the Lord would open the right door. Now she is on my Board and a true advocate for The Veranda.”

Mary Anne never dreamed the gospel music industry would play such a vital role in catapulting her into her divine destiny. “How the Lord could take an industry and its artists and blend it with my dream and true desire to create a new concept for a church ministry amazes me. I am blessed that the guys from Tribute live close and are so supportive of The Veranda. They all come by and sing or play for our clients. Many of the artists in southern gospel have been wonderful to us. Debbie Bennett (Roger Bennett’s wife) is the chair of my advisory board. The clients love Roger’s music. His hymns’ video soothes them, and when it’s playing sometimes they burst out singing and something registers in the minds. It’s an incredible thing to see and hear.”

The need is great. The Veranda has already outgrown their original space. They are in the process of completing a renovation of the church’s basement as a new location. “We are tripling our space which will give us additional room to grow. We have grown from three clients when we started in 2012 and to date have serviced 24 clients and their families in one year. God is so good. It proves to me that when you do the right thing for the right reason, God will bless and provide.” Mary Anne hopes the renovation will continue as smoothly as it has the past few weeks. “We would love be able to give tours of our new home the night of our Christmas Dinner Theater!” If you would like to know more about The Veranda, visit their Facebook page at: