Story and slideshow by KEITH LAMAR McDONALD
Meet Virginia Price and take a tour of the Sarah Daft Home.
The house is an odd mixture of a nursery and a college dorm. People lounge around and play cards, sit alone at desks, fill up containers at water fountains and walk around conversing with friends. Some relax in their rooms occupying themselves with TV, crafts, puzzles and computers.
Still others seek help from caregivers, whether it is with cleaning, laundry, transportation, grooming, or light exercise.
If there were no sign in front of the Sarah Daft Home, the rustic building would look normal — albeit large and old-fashioned — for a modern family. Perched on a plateau less than a block from East High School, it is a Salt Lake City Landmark located at 737 South 1300 East.
All of the residents have a story to tell, but one resident’s story stands out from all the rest.
Virginia Price, 84, arrived at the Sarah Daft Home in November 2012. Unbeknownst to her, the center would be her home for the foreseeable future. Although she likes the assisted-living facility now, it wasn’t always a place she wanted to be.
“I brought four sets of clothes because I didn’t know I was moving…. I thought I was going to see my granddaughter,” Price said. “I know my kids thought they were doing me a favor. I didn’t want to move. I had an apartment, I was living by myself.”
The main issue that Price had with the transition to the Sarah Daft Home is the loss of independence. She said her first couple of days at the home were filled with tears as she poured out her emotions to the Sarah Daft Home Director, Marsha Namba, while they held hands.
“It’s a tough transition,” Namba said. “Moving from independence to dependence can be tough.”
Growing up in the Uintah Basin
Price, dressed in a peach-colored sweat suit and seated on a couch outside her room, spoke softly about what it was like growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.
She was raised on a ranch in the Uinta Basin, where she started working at the age of 8. Her family plowed fields with horses, not a tractor, and they had no electricity or automobile. They hauled water to an old tin tub to bathe themselves.
She and her eight siblings lived with their parents in a two-bedroom home. Her father accounted for every penny they made and spent in his ledger and made sure that everyone pulled their own weight. Solidarity was their primary tool, not technology or science.
“Neighbors would go from farm to farm to help everybody with their work, about seven or eight neighbors,” Price said. “Then [World War II] came and people started making money from their farms and pulled away from that cooperative form of living…. That was the saddest part of growing up — watching the community dissolve.”
The work ethic Price learned on that ranch followed her into her adulthood as an employee and parent.
Career and family life
Price grew up in Utah, but later lived in Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Oregon. She drove a big rig through America, visiting every state in the Union except for Vermont. She held odd jobs as a waitress and clerical worker. She also worked at a sawmill where she lost the tip of her finger in an accident.
Pay equity was an issue, as Price received lower wages than her male counterparts for the same jobs. Price said she earned $6.50 per hour while the male workers made up to $11 an hour. She was the only woman out of the 20 workers at the sawmill, which had at least seven workers injured at all times. The wear and tear of such dangerous and intensive labor finally forced her to quit.
Her favorite job, however, was at the forestry service.
“I loved working outdoors, around the mountains, riding horseback,” she said.
Price said she instilled her traditional values of hard work on her six children to mixed effects. She said some of her children think she was a bit hard on them.
“My kids had to do chores and we ate together and we lived life together because that’s what raises up a family,” she said.
During the interview, Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ “Oh Boy” came on the radio. The song made her think about picking up her children and dancing with them.
“I dearly love my grandkids but I’m embarrassed a lot … I tell you what … they are raised different,” she added.
Her children thought she gave them too much to do, but one of her daughters, after raising children of her own, said she may have gone too far from the traditions and values Price tried to impress upon her.
Price contracted pneumonia in January 2014 after a hip replacement and has had a tough time getting back on track.
“I’m still not over it. It’s terrible, the coughing and my voice, but my lungs are clear now,” she said.
Even though she may miss her independence, Price still enjoys working with her hands. During the Christmas 2013 season she sent 125 cards and decorated 20 birdhouses for her family and friends to enjoy. It took her six months to complete the tasks.
Price stays active but has some trouble remembering things. Her best friend and sister, Lavonda, died in November 2013 due to leukemia. Price still feels her presence, often telling herself she needs to call her sister before realizing she cannot.
“I can remember when I was young a lot better than I can remember [current events],” Price said.
Price tells her life story through her book of poetry, “Inside Looking Out,” which was published by lulu.com in October 2013. It is a 309-page hardcover book with subjects ranging from inquisitive grandchildren to growing up on a ranch.
“I like writing poems about horses and the outdoors and people,” Price said. “If I write the first line that comes to my head the rest just flows. That’s how I’ve been writing my adult years.”
One of the poems Price likes best deals with her seeing a picture of herself and thinking that she didn’t feel as old as she looks in the image. Not only was she inside a retirement home looking out at the world, she was inside her body looking out at a world that didn’t see her mind, only her aging frame.
She said she never thought her poems were any good because she couldn’t get many people to read them.
But at the Sarah Daft Home, Price has plenty of friends to share her work and ideas with.
Lenova Burton, a caregiver at the Sarah Daft Home, sees Price as a sweet person who cares about everyone she meets. If a resident needs someone to talk to they can always come to Price. She never turns down a chance to interact with people.
“Her personality hasn’t changed since she got here,” Burton said.
Director Marsha Namba said Price will be remembered for her love of literature and kind heart.
Her poems will remain a testament to what she stands for long after she is gone. People will never struggle to remember what she did with her life before the Sarah Daft Home or how she felt as an aging Utahn on the “Inside Looking Out.”