Carol Roark spends most of her time out and about visiting friends, so her one-bedroom apartment at the Terrace Retirement Community suits her just fine. It's only when she jumps from her seat to tell the stories about her colorful life that it seems she might need more room.
Roark acts out her stories with her hands and feet in constant motion, ignoring the walker that's within arm's reach. She only needs it occasionally to take the weight off her back, which began to give out a few years ago. She can fill volumes with tales about her travels, her love of art and humor, and the friendships she's developed over the years.
Roark, 77, might be best known for her art. Most days she does pen-and-ink drawings on half a dozen envelopes, stuffs them with an index card of jokes and sends them to friends, doctors and patients she used to work with when she was a certified nurse's assistant at Candlelight Lodge, a retirement and assisted living facility on Business Loop 70 West.
One of the friends who receives the cards is Mary Ann Mize, a personal banker at Landmark Bank on Stadium Boulevard and Ash Street who met Roark when she and her husband, Joe Roark, opened an account several years ago.
Every year Roark invites Mize, 73, to the Mother's Day luncheon at the Terrace. Mize said they have "a mother-daughter relationship," though the age difference is small.
"Carol is big on sending you jokes," Mize said, "... once she gets to know you and likes you.
"She has many, many friends, people that she shares her life with, and it's wonderful she has all that."
Roark, who says she makes friends everywhere she goes, is a living illustration of the research that shows seniors who are more social fare better cognitively as they age.
Giggles and grins
Roark can rattle off an endless supply of jokes, some with a bit of an edge but others that are family-friendly.
"Why do seagulls fly over the sea?" Roark asked. "Because if they flew over the bay, they'd be bagels."
Roark also enjoys creating coloring pages with outlines of flowers, butterflies, birds and ladybugs that she takes to Candlelight Lodge for residents with dementia to color. It gives her a chance to visit her former workplace, and it gives the residents something to do.
Roark gathers inspiration for her drawings from photographs, calendars and books she buys. She creates cutouts that she can use to easily replicate her drawings. One of her favorite characters is a cow she calls Dee Daisy Marie that she draws in various tai chi and yoga poses.
Where did she get the cow's name? “My mother’s friend, Dee Daisy Marie, was always talking and taking cows to pasture,” Roark said. “Somehow it just occurred to me: They have calendars of cats doing yoga, and I thought cows can do yoga.”
Art has been a passion for Roark since she was in elementary school. An oil painting she created her senior year of high school is still showcased in Van Buren, if the plywood she painted it on hasn’t rotted, Roark joked. She painted the Hunter Hotel, which was built beside the railroad that ran through the town.
“It was the bicentennial of Carter County,” Roark said. “My teachers at school thought that I should be the one to draw a painting.”
Years later, she and her husband were in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was stationed with the Army. The staff asked her to draw some posters to decorate the post's recreation center. She recalled the drawings consisted of the Snohomish people with whales and salmon and of Plains Indians with buffalo.
“I looked up the designs, drew them on a piece of cardboard and slapped them up there,” Roark said. “And then I colored them with watercolor pencils.”
The posters were such a hit that many of them went missing, Roark said.
“The only ones they couldn’t get to was the ones on a tripod in the lobby by the office window."
One of the many friends Roark made in her 13 years working at Candlelight Lodge was Delcia Crockett, whom she met in 2005. Roark worked afternoons, while Crockett had the overnight shift. The two would spend time together during shift changes and staff meetings.
Crockett used to walk Roark to the elevator as the two were parting. "And then she would go out to her husband — her one and only forever love from her childhood," she recalled.
Carol Roark married Joe Roark in March 1963. Just weeks after their wedding, they boarded a bus that would take them from Poplar Bluff to Leesville, Louisiana. That was near Fort Polk, where he was stationed as a private first class.
"The bus was a first of its kind," Roark said. "Continental Trailways. It had a toilet, upholstered seats and air conditioning."
The bus trip turned out to be quite an adventure, Roark said. She recalled highway patrol troopers stopping the bus about 10 minutes outside Little Rock, Arkansas, because of civil rights protests that were happening in the city.
Later, in Shreveport, Louisiana, she was stopped by a fellow Trailways rider as she tried to reboard the bus after a brief stop. The small, barefoot woman, wearing "a black hood and really long sleeves," began circling her and chanting while reaching into a small bag and sprinkling dust around her and in front of the bus.
Another traveler told Roark that the woman had just put a voodoo curse on her. She didn't believe it then, and she doesn't believe it now.
But the Roarks didn't last long in Leesville, a town of about 1,100. After a little less than a year there, her husband asked to be stationed overseas. Roark recalled tension over a visit by the Ku Klux Klan being the reason for relocating.
"I cried," Roark said. "I didn't want to be there."
Joe Roark moved to Munich, Germany, in December 1963 and saved enough money to fly Carol there the following April. His military career had the couple moving back and forth for many years from Germany to Fort Campbell until his retirement in 1982, when they returned to their home state of Missouri.
He was able to find a job at the bus station in Columbia, so the couple moved here in December 1983. A few months later, he went on to work for Truman Veterans Hospital, and Carol received training at Columbia Regional Hospital to become a certified nursing assistant.
Joe Roark died about five years ago. When back trouble began a little while later, Carol Roark decided to move to the Terrace.
“I love living here at the Terrace,” Roark said. “We drink our coffee and tea. I have jokes in envelopes for the girls who work in the kitchen.”
Roark keeps in touch with many of her former co-workers. Crockett said that Roark always makes her laugh and that the cards she sends are hilarious.
"Like the one at Easter that had Moses and Pharaoh on it and they were in a tug-of-war over a magazine, and Moses was saying, 'Let my 'People' go!'"
Mize said it's a pleasure having Roark as a friend.
"If you ever have her enter in your life, she's someone you'll never forget."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.