Some say life review is like a movie screen in the back of our mind replaying pivotal scenes, points of conflict or glory or moments of regret. This article seeks to provide a snapshot into the life of Hospice Care of the West (HCOTW) patient Shirley McDonnell as she shares meaningful moments, milestones she’s achieved and the people who matter most because “what is important at the end of it all is the people you love and who love you.”
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Shirley originally came to California during World War II. Clutching her Phi Beta Key and armed with Bachelor and Master degrees in history from Occidental College and a Masters in Education from UCLA, Shirley began her teaching career at Herbert Hoover H.S. in Glendale, CA. There she developed an innovative program for gifted students in the 1960s. In 1968 she moved to Beloit, WI when she and her husband joined the staff at Beloit College. The program she had developed in Glendale caused the superintendent at a high school nearby to ask her to take on a similar task and to revamp the social studies department at Hononegah High School in Rockton, IL. Shirley stayed at Hononegah, where she developed interdisciplinary programs and courses in Advanced Placement History and Psychology, until her retirement in 1994.
After her own children went off to college, Shirley won a number of teaching awards. One of these took her to Princeton University where an experimental program was instituted to bring in top teachers from across the country to form a teaching team to instruct other teachers about better ways to teach history. Four teachers were selected for the first national team. Shirley was both the only woman and the only public school educator chosen.
For several summers the team traveled across the U.S. working with outstanding teachers to develop new curricula in subjects of national import: climate change, immigration, racial strife, women’s history, the use of primary documents among them. Shirley went on to become a Fulbright Fellow to the Netherlands and to become a scholar in residence at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina.
An educator for nearly 40 years, Shirley laughs as she recalls that growing up, both her son and daughter claimed they would never pursue teaching because it was a career path with too much work for too little pay. Nevertheless, both went on to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Son Brett is a law professor at the University of Minnesota and daughter Evelyn is a journalism professor at Loyola Marymount Univ. Both have received many academic honors and both use innovative teaching methods.
After her divorce in 1990 and retirement from teaching in 1994, Shirley decided to move back to Southern California where most of her extended family are located. In 1997, she moved into Laguna Woods. Within two months, at a clubhouse dance, she met fellow resident Gerald Pomeroy, also a retired history teacher. The two have been” inseparable every since.” Unlike her first husband, Jerry shares Shirley’s love of dance. Jerry is a ballroom dancer who particularly likes to tango. An avid reader, Shirley also counts aerobics, lengthy walks and yoga among her favorite pastimes.
“I liked the small town feel of Beloit and it was a great place to raise my children,” says Shirley. “But I do not miss the five-month winters. “Laguna Woods has been a great place to retire.”
With daughter Evelyn and husband Bud living nearby, Shirley and Jerry are able to share quality time with grandson Cole. Jerry believes Cole is his best instructor in learning his I-pad. Both have birthdays rapidly approaching. Cole will be 13, Jerry will be 93!
An RN Case Manager for Hospice Care of the West, Gina Mendoza helps patients like Shirley manage the “comfort-related issues” that follow a patient’s decision not to pursue further curative medical treatment or when it is determined the further treatment is not an option.
“Shirley is an extremely intelligent, educated lady who possesses an awesome disposition and outlook on life,” says Gina.
“Gina also has such a great outlook that you can’t help but be cheerful around her,” says Shirley. “There were nurses who had told me that I shouldn’t wait to go into hospice and now I wish I had gone into this wonderful program sooner.
“Another wonderful aspect of having been in the teaching profession is that I have had the opportunity to have an impact – big and small – on so many individual’s lives,” says Shirley. “I have heard from so many people I have taught, many of whom have written such beautiful, moving letters, that it makes the end of a life easier to bear.
“Having made a difference in the lives of both your col- leagues and your students, being accepted in any community as a positive influence in the community, being asked by those in the community to serve in important, trusted positions and feeling highly valued – these things shine through in the letters I am receiving and it is making my son and daughter even more appreciative of their chosen careers because they know they are truly making a difference.”