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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Center puts together model day to honor 89-year-old resident

By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal staff writer

SAGAMORE HILLS: As a hairdresser made some final touches to Dorothy Novak's white locks and rosy cheeks, about 80 people assembled in the lobby of the Elmcroft of Sagamore Hills to await her entrance.

The staff of the assisted-living center passed through the seated crowd carrying trays of juice, wine, cheese and fruit while they waited for the start of a fashion show to be headlined by one of their own.

Suddenly, the years fell away as Novak, who will turn 90 next month, briefly returned to her life as a model for Halle Brothers Department stores and took her place on the runway in a black skirt and jacket featuring silvery roses.

The gathering applauded and cheered ''Yay, Dorothy!'' while Novak beamed before flashing cameras. An announcer shared that Novak was born and grew up in Bedford, was a cheerleader, raised three children and traveled extensively with her husband, Wally, before he died.

Novak's son, Dale Kocab of Wadsworth, said he knew he was coming to see a fashion show but had no idea a two-hour event had been planned to celebrate that part of his mother's life.

''I didn't expect all this,'' he said. ''I'm really impressed.''

He said he had no doubt his mom, an Alzheimer's patient, loved the attention.

''She always liked to dress up.

She was a clothes horse,'' he laughed.

The idea for the fashion show, which continued with other models in fashions from the 1500s to present day, came from Elmcroft staffers, who have been trying to create special days for individual residents.

Their Second Wind Dreams program, launched six months ago, has treated one resident to cooking classes and another resident and his pals to a day at the races.

''For Dorothy, we wanted her to be able to revisit her modeling days,'' said Amanda Champa, Elmcroft marketing coordinator.

That idea also fit in with a program operated by Crossroads Hospice of Green, which helps look after Novak at the center.

Crossroads' program, the Ultimate Gift, asks patients: ''If you had one day to live, what would it be like?''

So the two agencies teamed up to plan the fashion show.

The first half of the show featured Elmcroft residents modeling modern gowns from Twila's Treasures. Then the residents took a seat for the second part of the show: the history of women's clothes, put on by Hatpins & Hemlines.

Show founder Terry Willingham led the audience through the functional layered clothing of the 1500s, the 40-pound gowns of 19th-century Southern plantations, bustle dresses, flapper styles and the time-honored little black dress.

As Willingham dropped names, events, books and toys from each era, members of the audience responded with claps and shouts as their own memories were jarred.

Friday's fashion show may not be the final dream made true for Novak.

After Kocab casually mentioned his mom's lifelong love of the Cleveland Indians, a staffer noted the center has been trying to arrange a day at Progressive Field for some other lady fans, and Novak might find herself on that trip as well.

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