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    Blind dates brighten seniors’ evening

    Thirteen residents of the Homewood assisted living facility dined by candlelight, danced and laughed with their volunteer dates.

    [Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
    Ida May McDowell, 91, shares a dance - and a laugh - with her blind date, Wayne Gross, 53, after a candlelight dinner Thursday at the Homewood assisted-living facility in Tarpon Springs.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- The first time Ida May McDowell went on a blind date, she was 16 and instantly smitten with the dashing young man. They danced a waltz that night, and married later in the year.

    In spite of her track record, she did not expect much from her blind date Thursday night, the second of her life. McDowell, now 91, just wanted to have a nice time and to dress up in a shimmering black dress and her best jewelry.

    In her dress and stunning diamond necklace, light reflected off McDowell as she waited for her date to arrive.

    "I look like a Christmas tree," she said.

    Along with 12 other residents at the Homewood assisted living facility, where the average age is 87.7, McDowell was treated to a blind date Thursday night. The residents were escorted into the dining room by men and women, many of them from the city's business community, who volunteered to act as dates for the evening.

    Some residents at Homewood are in the early stages of dementia. Others have poor eyesight or need walkers or wheelchairs to get around.

    But on Thursday, they acted like schoolkids on their first dates. The couples dined by candlelight on shrimp cocktails, chicken cordon bleu and Black Forest cheesecake.

    McDowell and her date, Wayne Gross, seemed to have the best time of all. They danced to You'll Never Walk Alone and held each other's hands while chatting and giggling. At a nearby table, Gross' wife, Susie, acted as the date for one of the men who lives at Homewood.

    Within minutes of meeting each other, McDowell and Gross spoke as if they were old friends. "Isn't he handsome?" McDowell gushed about her date.

    Throughout dinner, she laughed so hard she nearly cried, and at the end of a long day, she held her own on the dance floor. Gross, 53, an antiques dealer, teased his date about her energy level.

    "She's wearing me out," he said.

    "Wait 'til the second date," she said, and they both cracked up.

    Other residents said the night was one of the highlights of their year. Several women waited in anticipation all day, and some of them had their hair and nails done early in the day.

    Some of the men at Homewood also went on dates. When Peter Fulvio, dressed in a yellow shirt and blue blazer, first caught sight of his date, he couldn't believe his luck. Judy Burkett, a pretty, 34-year-old blond wearing a pink dress, walked up to Fulvio and took his hand.

    "Now what prompts a vibrant person like you to come to a soiree like this?" asked Fulvio, a former lawyer.

    Burkett, who owns a hair salon in Tarpon Springs, gave him a big grin.

    "To make someone's night," she said.

    - Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or .

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