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Magnolia Manor marks 20 years of being a home’

Bea Mathews stands inside her apartment with one of her favorite Santa collectibles, a hula hooping Santa.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[12/17/01]Bea Mathews and her sister, Sandy Sanders, are two of the “originals.”

They moved into Magnolia Manor on the day it opened 20 years ago.

“She slept on my couch the first night,” Mathews said, a Greenville native who is now 82. Sanders is 87.

The two have since lived next door to one another, enjoying the amenities of independent living, yet in an apartment complex suited for the elderly.

“We couldn’t live together,” said Mathews, a petite woman with a caustic wit. The separate-but-close arrangement at Magnolia Manor “makes it really nice,” she said.

The facility, at 3515 Manor Drive, was named one of the Top 1,000 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development facilities in the country, and one of the top 10 homes for the elderly in Mississippi.

“This is considered an excellent property,” said Claudia Runnels, site manager who oversees the 80 one- and two-bedroom units in the building filled with tenants from their 60s to the oldest, who is 104. “Anyone who comes here says that.”

The building is designed for the elderly, with elevator access, apartments that open to the inside of the building, a commons room and a beauty salon on the ground floor. It is not an assisted-living situation, but one where the tenants cook, clean and care for themselves. There is no on-site nurse, although each bedroom and bathroom features an emergency call button. “Although I have had people live in a two-bedroom unit with a full-time attendant,” Runnels said.

A tenant’s rent is based on his or her income and medical expenses, Runnels said, with a one-bedroom unit renting for $592 and a two-bedroom for $677. What the tenant can’t afford, HUD provides.

“It serves the needs of most of the elderly,” Runnels said. “They don’t need a lot of space to take care of.”

Although Magnolia Manor’s 20-year contract with HUD expired this year, it has been extended for one year and “will be renewed for 30 more years after that,” Runnels said.

Inspections are necessary to meet HUD’s requirements. “A company was hired to come in, an engineer, a real-estate person. Everything (was inspected) before HUD would renew,” she said.

“I love it here,” said Elizabeth Blum, 94, of Vicksburg. She, too, moved in when the building opened in 1981.

“I spent the first night here by myself,” Blum said. “The manager said, Mrs. Blum, I don’t have any furniture yet.’ I said, That’s OK.'”

To make the building feel more like a community, group activities are scheduled throughout the month, including various speakers and performances. Jigsaw puzzles that tenants completed are framed and hang throughout the building.

Like home, they decorate and furnish their apartments however they wish. Bea Mathews’ is filled with Santa Clauses of every shape and size. One twirls a hula hoop. Another shakes his hips to a Christmas tune. “I try to find those that do something different,” Mathews said. They are her passion, she said. And they keep her company.

About being one of the original 20: “I don’t know how long it will last. My health is getting so bad,” she said, then cracks a smile. “I feel it everywhere but my appetite.”