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North Hills Monthly

UPMC Senior Communities’ Residents Recreate History

Jan 01, 2017 02:24PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

Tish of Vanadium Woods Village as Cleopatra

Every spring for the past five years, an unusual caravan has made its way throughout UPMC Senior Communities campuses. From cars, vans and trucks emerge a surprising array of costumes, props, lights and cameras. Familiar spaces are transformed into makeshift dressing rooms and photography studios. Anticipation and curiosity abound among residents, staff and guests. It can only mean one thing—it’s time for the making of the annual UPMC Senior Communities Benevolent Care Fund calendar. 

UPMC Senior Communities is home to more than 2,900 senior citizens utilizing independent living, personal care, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing and rehabilitation services across western Pennsylvania. Established in 2007, the Benevolent Care Fund supports aging in place by providing financial assistance to UPMC Senior Communities residents who have exhausted their resources. In the past year, UPMC Senior Communities has provided millions in uncompensated care and charitable relief to qualifying residents. Proceeds from the sale of the calendar benefit this effort.

The calendar features photographs of Senior Communities residents and takes on a specific theme each year. In years past, themes have included residents and their pets, residents who are veterans and residents photographed as movie stars in iconic roles. At its inception, the idea for the calendar was to meet a tangible need, but there is a secondary benefit equally meaningful to the residents who participate in the photo shoot.

“The whole experience has become a special occasion, like a holiday, for everyone involved,” says Deanne Thomas, activities coordinator at Seneca Manor, the UPMC Senior Communities assisted living facility in Penn Hills. “It’s unlike anything else we have the opportunity to do in the course of a year. The make-up, the costumes, the transformation and the moment of ‘the big reveal’ when the resident comes out of that dressing room—it creates so much joy throughout the community.”

The 2017 edition showcases residents costumed as historical figures. Titled History with a Twist, this year’s calendar portrays famous individuals known to many but with a modern-day twist. Each month brings to life an historical figure tied to the modern result of his or her unique contribution to history. Creative, fun, and a stretch of the imagination, History with a Twist depicts more than 100 UPMC Senior Communities residents in ways they never anticipated.

Each resident spends about a half-an-hour in hair, make-up and costuming in the capable hands of Senior Communities staff. The dressing area is replete with wigs, hairnets, top hats, even crinolines, according to what a particular character requires. Making one’s way from the dressing area to the “set” becomes something of a promenade. Audiences gather; laughter and applause repeat in a chorus throughout the day.

Of course, the costume is just one aspect of how the story is told. Props are another element that contributes to the telling of the tale and to the residents’ experiences. Residents’ eyes were wide when they came upon this year’s props arrayed across several tables; props included a sewing machine, a chain saw, a swimming pool noodle, an oversized GPS, and a large foam board cut-out of a Yellow Cab. Who in history might have been linked with these items in the modern day? The answers are Betsy Ross, George Washington, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, Amelia Earhart, and Cleopatra, respectively.

When it actually comes to the point of picture-taking, each resident is posed and photographed in front of a blank screen. A background appropriate to the character and the circumstance is imposed later via computer in the production phase of the project. The combination of this year’s costumes, props and selected scenes are especially vivid and make for pictures that leap off the page with dimension.

Some of the resident “talent” are calendar veterans who have participated in the project for several years, including Lighthouse Pointe resident Tony Iole. For Tony, renowned in Senior Communities for his portrayal of Rocky Balboa in the 2016 calendar, this year took a melodramatic turn when he was cast as Florence Nightingale’s beleaguered patient, complete with bandaged head. Likewise, Anzy Henderson of Seneca Hills Village went from Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain in 2016 to inventor and innovator George Washington Carver in 2017.

A video documenting the making of the calendar can be viewed at  It includes interviews with participating residents who describe some of their personal histories and their characters’ histories and recitations of famous quotes attributed to the figures being portrayed. One resident even offers her secret to longevity and living well, which history may prove quotable also: “Eat candy, eat cookies and swear a little.”

The 2017 UPMC Senior Communities Benevolent Care Fund calendar, History with a Twist, is on sale now at a cost of $10 each and supports seniors in need. Order today by contacting Debbie Panei, Director of Development, at or call 412-864-3524.

For more information on UPMC Senior Communities, visit

The information in this article was provided by UPMC Senior Communities.