March 20, 2013

Thelma's Corner provides storytelling outlet

By RACHAEL OSBORNE Features Editor and AMY HEGGEN, Contributing Writer

---- — PLATTSBURGH — At 91, Thelma Douglas needed an outlet for the many adventurous stories about her life that friends insisted she tell.

So, Thelma’s Corner, a small storytelling group, was established about six months ago after some convincing from her friend Lee Girard.

Douglas and Girard live at the Samuel F. Vilas Home for senior citizens on Beekman Street, where Thelma’s Corner is held at 3 p.m. most Thursdays in the sun room on the second floor. Anywhere from six to 15 people come each week, Douglas said.


“It started out because friends of mine told residents that they know that I had a lot of good stories, that I had a lot of adventures in my life from when I was very little until I came here,” Douglas said. “I’m still having them.” 

Girard said she has a great appreciation for Douglas’s stories, which often include traveling adventures.

“It made the long winter go by so fast,” Girard said. “With each story each week, she has something to back it up.” 

In the beginning, Douglas shared childhood memories, and then she moved on to times with her family growing up in Niagara Falls, N.Y., her college years, teaching career and trips she made after her retirement. 

“I broke it down, and each week I told part of my life story,” she said.

Douglas, who was a teacher and director of physical education at the Plattsburgh City School District from 1944 until 1976, has pictures and other items from places she has visited stored in her room. Just three years ago, Douglas moved out of a house in Plattsburgh that she had lived in for 50 years. It was difficult to pare down all of the memorabilia that she had accumulated over time to fit into her one room at the Vilas Home, she said.

“I’ve done a lot of crazy things. I came from a family that did a lot of things,” said Douglas, who is also a lifetime Girl Scout with an 80-year service pin.

In her retirement, she traveled for five days across Kansas in a covered wagon, sleeping under the stars and cooking outdoors.

“My biggest adventure was when I went 100,000 miles in a small motor home, living in national parks,” she said.

She also spent 18 winters at the Virgin Islands, volunteering for the National Park Service with friend and frequent travel partner, Bea Hunt, who was also a resident of the Vilas Home until her death two years ago. Other excursions included spending seven winters in Socorro, N.M.; climbing the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire; rafting and skiing across the United States; and taking trips to Europe.

“I went to most of the places I really wanted to go to,” Douglas said.

“But rather than travel to lots and lots of places, I like to go someplace and stay awhile and absorb the culture and the food and the activities of a particular place.

“They weren’t always very active adventures, but they usually had some pretty good stories to tell,” Douglas said.


But Douglas isn’t the only storyteller; other speakers are also asked to come to Thelma’s Corner. 

Last week’s guest came dressed as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a women’s rights suffragette from the 1800s. She was re-enacted by Ruth Mowry, a member of the Psi Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, a society for women educators.

“We do a variety of things,” Douglas said. “We’ve had an accordion player, travelers who have been to Nepal, Kenya and Italy.”

Douglas said she flies by suggestions and is always looking for talent. She has many more ideas for Thelma’s Corner.


Homework isn’t uncommon either. Douglas has given a few assignments to the group. 

“The homework worked out well,” she said. 

In one instance, she asked them to bring in a poem or verse from their past and had them memorize and recite it.

“We had a lot of fun with challenging people to remember something,” she said.

Another assignment was to bring in a picture that they wanted to talk about. The meeting room, with the chairs arranged in a circle, encourages group participation. 

“Whatever happens, don’t miss it” has become Douglas’s motto. Thelma’s Corner attendees had the slogan printed on about 30 T-shirts, which they wear to the meetings.

“It’s really a good motto for anybody at any age,” Douglas said. “Whatever happens, don’t miss it.”



Thelma's Corner is open to the public.

Those interested in presenting or attending should call Thelma Douglas at 563-4960, Ext. 31, in advance to reserve a seat and to confirm the meeting dates.