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Memory threads ice cake

Helen Frizzell (left), and Janet de Wagt, with the knitted memory cake. Photo: Kathleen Riach.

The importance of people’s lives and memories is being celebrated with the creation of a knitted ‘memory cake’ and centennial calendar, as a well-known Dunedin rest home turns 100.

During the past few months, Oral Historian, Helen Frizzell, and Community Artist, Janet de Wagt, have worked together with Ross Home residents, staff and the wider community to produce the cake and calendar. Janet estimates about 50 residents were directly involved.

The knitted memory cake

“The important thing is that people have lives, and have had, in the past, very interesting lives. They bring with them memories – that is why we call it a memory cake,” Janet says.

Ross Home residents have a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and their commonality is that they are older and living together in a residential setting, she says.

Over many cups of tea, Helen and Janet held workshops with the residents and staff, to share and record a myriad of memories.

The senior citizens knitted a three-tier, three-dimensional birthday cake, which was stuffed with foam rubber. Janet says the wool is symbolic.

The thread coming through…people’s lives are a thread.”

Calendar centrepiece

Once the memories had been gathered, Helen and Janet used the cake as the centrepiece for the calendar. For each month, they built an installation, conveying people’s stories through photographs, text fragments and items that residents and friends had knitted. People lent memorabilia which had been part of their lives at the home.

Janet photographed these installations to create the Ross Home Centennial Calendar, which is for the 2019 year.

Precious residents…the month of February on the Ross Home Centennial Calender. Photo: Janet de Wagt.

Marvellous outings…the month of March on the Ross Home Centennial Calender. Photo: Janet de Wagt.

“There was so much story, so much information and so much stuff,” she says.

“We tried really hard to incorporate everybody and everybody’s stories, and to incorporate the past 100 years.”

100 years on

Ross Home opened in October 1918 and is the oldest Presbyterian Support-owned care home in New Zealand.

The Home’s Manager, Margaret Pearce, says for the centennial project, residents from all areas of the home knitted, told stories, listened and participated to various degrees. One participant, Patricia Leonard (Tough), had been a professional artist and others were creative in other ways.

“They were all very enthusiastic about it.”

One participant had bought six copies of the calendar before it was even printed. Residents all received a calendar at the centenary celebrations, held from October 19 to 21.

During a centenary high tea, live violin and piano music drifted through the home as residents, former and existing staff, families and friends enjoyed catching up and sharing more memories.

Fresh, colourful flowers adorned various lounges and people wore period costume. Historical items, photo albums and the knitted memory cake were displayed. Edible centenary cakes were cut in each of the home’s five units.

When asked if Daily Encourager could have a word with her, resident Alison Mundell (92) responded,

I haven’t been here long enough!”

She has lived at the home 12 years and says it is a nice place to stay.

“You can have your cat,” she says, then proceeding to tell a tale about her beloved pet.

Generations of families

Manager Margaret says many generations of families have lived or worked at Ross Home.

One of those is the home’s oldest resident, Rod Madill (103), who has lived there about 10 years. During the celebrations, he cut an official centenary cake with Tom Ross, the great-grandson of Sir John Ross, who donated the 10-acres for the home.

Ross Home’s oldest resident, Rod Madill (left), cutting an edible centenary cake with Tom Ross, the great-grandson of Sir John Ross, who donated land for the home. Photo: Kathleen Riach.

Rod’s daughter, Marg Madill, says she used to visit the home in the 1960s with her father, who was then the Opoho Presbyterian Church minister.

Another of Rod’s daughters was a nurse at Ross Home and his grandson now works there as a caregiver.

The home’s long tradition of care is set to continue, as it enters its second century.

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For further information:

To buy the Ross Home Centennial Calendar, please contact Ross Home

About the Home’s 100 years, click here


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