Nfld. & Labrador

Seniors go back to school with prom night at Bishops Gardens

You’ve heard of a senior prom, but how about a seniors' prom?

A seniors' home in a converted high school gave residents a night to remember

Seniors Prom brings back memories at former high school

10 months ago
Duration 3:57
You've heard of a senior prom, but how about a seniors prom? It happened at Bishops Gardens, a seniors living facility in St. John’s, built on the site of a former high school, Bishops College. Some residents were actually students at that high school, including one who missed his own senior prom.

You've heard of a senior prom, but how about a seniors' prom?

It had all the trappings of a typical prom night; fancy dresses, suits and ties, corsages, a dance floor with a live band. But instead of fresh-faced teenagers bopping in a gym, this prom had folks in their 70s and 80s partying like they were 17 or 18. 

Bishops Gardens is a seniors' living facility in St. John's, built on the site of a former high school, Bishops College. Resident Effie Shephard remarked that there were scores of proms held at this location over the years.

"This is the first time that they're all seniors! Can you imagine?" she said. 

As she gazed around the room at her fellow residents smiling, dancing, and looking their best, Shephard explained that prom night was truly special for folks here.

"I think it means a lot, because it means that we're still up and moving! And there's a lot to be said for that."

The prom he never had

Prom night was extra-special for one resident of Bishops Gardens. 

Edwin Richards was a student at Bishops College, from 1969 to 1971. The building where he went to high school is now his home as a senior citizen. But Richards missed out on one big part of the high school experience.

Edwin Richards is a resident of Bishops Gardens and a graduate of Bishops College. Here he is next to his photo from his high school yearbook. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"I missed my prom because I was working at the UIC in St. John's, the Unemployment Insurance Commission," Richards said. "And a few weeks later, I was on unemployment myself."

Richards said he doesn't regret choosing work over dancing all those years ago. "I wanted to make some money," he said. "But I'm going to relive it tonight!"

All dolled up

For many at Bishops Gardens, the day began the way prom night so often does: by getting all dolled up.

Hairstylist Alexis Ingram dropped by to give the ladies each a special 'do. Margaret Dalton was the first one in the chair.

"How good do I look to be 90 years old?" she asked.

The day was planned to unfold just like a real prom, with hairstyling in the morning, a "limo" ride in the afternoon (with a rented Metrobus serving as the limousine), and the dinner and dance in the evening.

"Looking forward to everything today," said Dalton. "Reminds me of when my daughters graduated from high school and university."

Peggy Walsh, right, and Alice Null sit in the salon chairs while stylist Alexis Ingram gives all the ladies a prom night hairdo. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Resident Peggy Walsh said it's important to do things that bring people together and break up the routine. 

"As you get older, if you didn't have something to take your interest, it's easy enough to stay in your room and do nothing," said Walsh. "And nobody wants that, really."

Bringing history to life

The prom night was planned by Bishops Gardens recreation director Stephanie Neville, with the whole staff pitching in to make the evening a success. Staff members dug through their own closets to find ties, dresses and other items to help folks get dressed up.

"I had staff come to me today who said, 'I'm off early, can I come back?'" said general manager Lauralee Wettlaufer.

"The buzz today is unbelievable. Everybody's talking about, 'Oh I'm going to get my nails done, I'm going to get my hair done, I'm going on the bus ride, and what dress are you wearing?'"

This is Bishops Gardens as it looks today, and as it did for decades in the building's former life as a high school, Bishops College. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Wettlaufer says the prom night is more than a bit of fun. It's a way to bring the history of the facility to life.

"We're a school, we redid the school and so it has that tie-in," she said. "It's just that opportunity to get gussied up, do a little bit extra and have some celebration. So everybody's just gotten right on board with it."

The big night

When the big night finally arrived, residents of Bishops Gardens poured into the main hall, some pushing their walkers in their best dancing shoes.

But even among this well-dressed crowd, there was one lady who stood out.

Verna Hudson had spent the week sewing her own prom dress, a white floor-length number accented with a sparkly silver necklace.

Verna Hudson steps off the elevator wearing a prom dress that she sewed herself. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"I was given some material, and no pattern, and I just had to fiddle around with it until I got a dress made." Hudson said.

Hudson pulled out all the stops for a reason. Like Edwin Richards, she is a former student at Bishops College. But unlike Richards, Hudson actually attended her senior prom — with her future husband.

"Oh, it was nice, we had a live band, and all of the graduates were there, and we danced all night. I think the curfew was 11 o'clock," she recalled.

The prom night at Bishops Gardens didn't go quite that late. But it gave the residents a chance to make some new memories. And for some, like Hudson, it brought back some old ones.

"I can see myself and my husband walking in here, so many years ago." she said.

The king and queen of seniors prom, as voted by the residents of Bishops Gardens: Herb Casey and Alice Null. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zach Goudie is a journalist and video producer with CBC in St. John's.

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