Mississippi’s last remaining County Home closes its doors

RAY VAN DUSEN/MONROE JOURNAL
PACKING UP – Norma Capps fills a tote on one of her last evenings as a resident of the County Home. Capps enjoyed gardening okra and peas at the home’s garden and weekly trips to its beauty shop. Capps was one of seven residents living at the County Home in the weeks leading to its closure Friday.

Even though she had already been displaced from the County Home for a few days, one former resident still called daily to find out what was new while making pleasant conversation with the few remaining residents and staff.
“Some residents had gone to stay with family for a day or two, but were so ready to get back here to this family. We’ve seen people blossom after coming here and we’ve blossomed from having them here ourselves. It’s a place where people find acceptance,” said assistant administrator Nancy Wilson, who has worked at the County Home for 25 years.
As the last few weeks drew closer to Friday’s closure of the last of its kind in the state, the quiet started to creep in more.
“It seems like a ghost town now. Usually this time of year would be so busy, the church groups would’ve already been throwing holiday parties starting in October,” said Juria McKenzie, the social worker who has come every Tuesday for the past 16-and-a-half years to check on the residents.
“The art class at the Advanced Learning Center already made Christmas cards for everybody, but wondered where to send them now that it’s going to be closed. I guaranteed I would get their addresses and make sure they were delivered,” said Tamie Sykes.

Nick Grimes changes a light bulb during one of the last nights the County Home was open. RAY VAN DUSEN

The closing of the Monroe County Home leaves a void for several church and civic groups and giving individuals alike.
“Everyone is looking for somebody to nurture. If a resident got five presents or just a piece of candy, they treated it like the first gift they’ve ever received. People got such a fulfillment from that,” said administrator Angela Shackleford, who has worked there 18 years.
Throughout the decades, the County Home has left a deep impression on the whole county and the families of the residents it’s housed through those years. It has set the back drop for weddings, baby showers and numerous church singings in the chapel as well.

Jennifer Evans and Nick Grimes hold a collage with several former residents of the Monroe County Home. RAY VAN DUSEN

One former resident’s obituary listed the extended family there as surviving family and several other families have called back devastated at the news of its closure while still thankful for all the services provided.
Wilson speculates certain counties established living centers during the Great Depression. In those days, the County Home was commonly known as the Poor House, but the name was changed in the 1970s to change the reputation.
The home has been operated by different members of the Simmons family for years and Wilson’s mother and Shackleford’s grandmother, Barbara Mabry, ran it from 1981 until her passing in 2009.
0Mabry was the type to open her doors to a complete stranger, collect clothes for anyone who lost a home to a fire and prepare a meal for someone who lost a loved one no matter if she knew them personally or not.

Her family purchased a tombstone for one resident’s grave and Mabry always kept flowers on the grave of another.
Wilson is Shackleford’s aunt and the two both grew up in the County Home. Both recall a lifetime of love and happiness there.

“It was always a safehaven to come to when you had a bad day. The residents were always there with open arms and it was always home, not an institution,” Wilson said.

With a full capacity of 12 residents, the County Home was down to seven at the end. Following the home’s closure, three were placed in nursing homes, three went to live with family and one was placed in an apartment with rent based on her monthly income.
“I had to be consoled when I took one of them to the nursing home,” Shackleford said.
“We’re in the grieving process now still looking to the past. Just watching the residents leave for the last time after seeing them every day for 25 years is horrible. Each time we’ve let a resident go, it’s a piece of the puzzle going missing and it takes away a piece of our hearts,” Wilson said.
Against their will, Shackleford and Wilson were forced to close the home this year after being refused one more Christmas.

From left, Tamie Sykes, Juria McKenzie, Nancy Wilson, Jennifer Evans, Angela Shackleford and Nick Grimes look through old photos and newspaper articles while talking about good times at the County Home. RAY VAN DUSEN

“I love all of my clients and to all of a sudden have their lives disrupted is not fair. It saddens me greatly what’s happened and we’ve all cried over it and wish it could’ve changed,” McKenzie said.
When Shackleford’s three-year-old niece, Allie, saw the story on the evening news while watching with her mother, Jennifer Evans, she started screaming and asking what it meant for the people she loved who lived at the County Home.
Rumors of the home’s closure began to fly since Mabry passed away, but picked up this year. One resident came home crying because someone asked her earlier this year if the County Home was closing.
While assured their residents are provided for, Wilson and Shackleford are unsure of what’s next in their own lives.
“When one door closes, another will open,” Shackleford said.

About Ray Van Dusen

I've been with the Monroe Journal since Aug. 2009 as a staff writer, but took the role as news editor in late 2012. I'm always looking for interesting story ideas from around Monroe County. You can reach me via email at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.