Ada Rosado Sullivan's wish: One final turn with a handsome man.
by Michael Vitez, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER, Posted: May 17, 2007
By 10 a.m. Friday, Ada Rosado Sullivan was wearing her red velvet dress. She would have worn it all day - right up to her big moment that evening.
But there was so much to do. She had to get the dress pressed - Veronica Imbro, the recreational therapist, was taking care of that. She had to get her hair colored, cut and styled. Her daughter would help her with that. Gray roots were showing in her chestnut hair, and on a night like this, gray roots just wouldn't do.
She went out to get her nails done - the boldest red, to accent her dress, which once belonged to her older sister, Paz Maria - and her daughter also drove her to Target for pantyhose, pearl earrings, and new black shoes. The tragedy of it all is that Ada, 80, can't wear heels anymore. Not since she broke her hip. And who merengues in flats?
To be honest, Ada had been nervous about this day, this night, for months.
A year ago, the Twilight Wish Foundation had come into her nursing home, run by the Department of Veterans Affairs in West Philadelphia, and made a remarkable offer: to grant one wish to all 230 residents.
Ada's wish was one last whirl around the dance floor with a handsome young man. She never thought anyone would take her wish seriously. She is a widow, with a bad leg, who spends most of her time in a wheelchair. But when she realized this wish was for real, she wondered: Could she even get out of her wheelchair and dance?
How she fretted.
Just a few days ago, she said to Imbro:
"Veronica, my hip, my knee. "
"You can do this," Imbro insisted.
And even Friday morning:
"I'm fine today," she said to Imbro, "but what about tonight? "
"You'll be fine tonight," Imbro said.
The Twilight Wish Foundation is run by Cass Forkin, and based in Pipersville, Bucks County.
Forkin, 44, had a job in the corporate world, but decided a few years ago that she wanted to spend her life making old people happy. She mortgaged her house and started the foundation.
The first wish she honored was from her father, a veteran, who wanted Taps played at his funeral. The idea to go into the veterans' nursing home was inspired by him.
It has taken a year for the foundation - Forkin, her boyfriend and two volunteers - to raise money to cover all of the wishes and make them come true.
Residents are sick and frail, and their wishes ranged from impossible to ordinary - a Boston cream pie, for instance, or size 13 slippers.
Twilight Wish took a retired mailman one more time along his old route in Jenkintown. It bought "loose powder for sensitive skin" for a 106-year-old woman. It threw a 100th birthday party for one woman and got her a letter from the President. It sent a dentist to his 50th reunion in Buffalo, N.Y., with a nurse to care for him.
It couldn't send one man to Alaska, but it gave him a coffee-table book so he could go there every day. Another got to go to Geno's in South Philadelphia for his wish: "cheesesteak with peppers and large Pepsi, no ice. "
Those incapable of making a wish received stuffed animals.
Not every wish came true. A retired World War II aviator wanted one last airplane ride. By the time the foundation arranged a helicopter - the best it could do - he was dead.
As of Friday, 225 wishes had been answered.
Five were left:
A visit from an astronaut, a trip to the circus, dinner at a Cape May restaurant, a chance to go fishing - and Ada's last dance.
Ada was a U.S. Marine, a second lieutenant, during the Korean War. She had been an English teacher in her native Puerto Rico when the Marines recruited her to teach English to Spanish-speaking recruits. So she moved to Parris Island, S.C., and taught Marines to understand "forward, march," and "about face. "
She also fell in love with a drill instructor, Alan Sullivan, and married him at the end of her four-year tour. (On her nursing-home door is a bumper sticker: "Semper Fi. ")
They lived in Florida, the Caribbean and New York as schoolteachers. She also taught international folk dancing for years. She loved to dance.
After her husband died in 1994, she moved to Philadelphia to be near her daughter, Sharon Sullivan, an artist.
Ada moved into the nursing home about 18 months ago after breaking her hip. She developed a little romance with the man across the hall, according to her daughter. They'd share snacks and treats made by their children and provided great companionship to each other.
But he moved to a private nursing home in September. Ada was very lonely after that, and confided to her daughter in anticipation of Friday night's big dance, "Maybe I'll meet someone. "
Friday night's dance was sponsored by Penn Latin and Ballroom Dance, at the University of Pennsylvania. When Twilight Wish contacted the dance club, it decided to hold a special Winter Ball just to grant Ada her wish.
Shortly after 7 p.m., as ballroom-dance lessons were under way, Ada arrived in her wheelchair and immediately began tapping her feet to the music.
She was radiant in her red dress, a strand of pearls around her neck.
She smiled broadly when one of her favorites from the nursing home - recreational therapist Emily Carver - surprised her by coming to watch.
"So who's the dance partner? " Carver asked. "Is he good-looking?
"I don't know yet," Ada replied.
After the lesson ended, the floor cleared, and Ada was introduced as the guest of honor. About 100 dancers applauded.
A soft and romantic bolero began playing. A handsome man in an elegant suit approached her, extended his hand, and lifted her out of the chair.
Rising was the hardest part. "Ow," Ada said.
But for the next minute, she floated.
Tim Wu, 32, held her tight.
Then Panayiotis Thomakos, 19, cut in.
Finally, Garincha Hilaire, 27, took a turn, giving her a spin - albeit in slow motion - as she had long wished.
She was on her timing, like a professional, and made small talk with her partners.
"I'd move more if I didn't have a broken hip," she told Thomakos.
"I want everyone to dance," she told Hilaire, who announced this to the ballroom. And, soon, everyone was dancing along with Ada.
After two brief minutes that will last perhaps for years in her memory, Ada sat down.
"Oh, that hurts," she said.
But 15 minutes later, Ada was up again, dancing with the same partners, merengue and salsa.
Then she went home to bed.
Contact staff writer Michael Vitez at 215-854-5639 or email@example.com.