Wesley Place sendoff for evacuees

JEREMY WISE / DOTHAN EAGLE

Frank Bodiford, a Mathison Retirement Community resident displaced by Hurricane Michael, accepts a gift from Wesley Place on Honeysuckle’s Vivian Readus during a party Friday. After being closed for five months, Mathison in Panama City, Florida, is reopening Monday.

A three-day trip turned into a five-month journey in Dothan for assisted living residents from Panama City, Florida, but they will soon return home.

Wesley Place on Honeysuckle officials organized a pizza party Friday for Mathison Retirement Community residents who have been at the facility since Hurricane Michael damaged the Mathison location in October. The group that remains at Wesley will board a bus Monday morning to return home to Mathison since repairs have been finished there, said Vivian Readus, administrator of assisted living and specialty care for Wesley Place.

Since the Mathison residents have been in Dothan for almost half a year, Readus said officials wanted to commemorate their time here with pizza, fellowship, and gifts.

“When they came, they were very displaced,” she said. “They’ve been here so long, we thought it would be nice to have a sendoff for them. They’ve made a lot of friends over the months, and they’ve enjoyed it.”

Officials with Methodist Homes for the Aging Corporation, which oversees both Wesley Place and Mathison, originally evacuated the Mathison residents to hotels in Montgomery for a three-day period, Readus said. The hurricane made landfall near Panama City, causing significant damage to the Mathison facilities and making a longer-term fix necessary.

Methodist Homes officials placed Mathison residents in facilities in Birmingham, Dothan, Montgomery and Pensacola, Florida. Wesley Place accepted 10 of the residents initially, but some have opted to live with family members as homes were repaired in Florida, Readus said.

Since residents left Mathison with a three-day supply of clothing, she went to Mathison to collect more clothing for the residents and other belongings the residents wanted with them. None of the residents lost possessions due to the storm.

Thelma Churchwell, one of the Mathison residents still at Wesley, expressed mixed emotions as she attended the party. Churchwell said the return to Panama City will put her closer to her two sons, who have visited her in Dothan while she lived here.

“It was a long three days, but they have been very kind to us and I’ve made so many friends,” she said. “I have mixed emotions. I’m more than ready to go home, but I wish I could take some friends with me. It’s really going home.”

Churchwell appreciated the party, she said.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “I’m glad all of the residents could take part in it.”

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