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Assisted living residents and ‘birthday twins’ become friends at Wichita Presbyterian Manor

On March 2, Maralene Balthazar and Joanne Cross celebrated their first birthdays as residents of Wichita Presbyterian Manor.

It was fitting, as the women have become the best of friends since Maralene moved in. Joanne heard that one of her new neighbors shared her Catholic faith, and she introduced herself.

“We ate lunch together, and that was it,” Joanne said. The women have been close ever since. They enjoy walking and talking together and going on outings around town.

“Sometimes Julia will take people on a joy ride to see the sights of Wichita,” Joanne said. On the way back, they’ll stop for an ice cream or root beer.

“We talk about our faith sometimes and about our family a lot,” said Joanne, who has two children to Maralene’s six.

“We laugh a lot, let’s put it that way,” Maralene said.

The friends met at a difficult time in Maralene’s life. She moved into Presbyterian Manor last August after suffering a small stroke, and she was unhappy and out of sorts during her first few days. She had lived in her old home for 40 years, and she felt lost.

“Then I got to know Joanne, and she made my day," Maralene said. “She came along at the right time. She didn’t know it, but she picked me up and carried me for a while.”

Joanne moved to Presbyterian Manor just a few months prior, but had already gotten to know people by volunteering to help with activities and other tasks, an activity that also made her feel “helpful and welcome.”

She was motivated to move to Presbyterian Manor because she wanted to live with people her age, facing similar challenges.

“People were friendly, and I just seemed to fit in,” she said. “I would consider this place a blessing to me.”

In addition to faith and family, the friends share some of the same broad life experiences. Maralene worked as a para educator for the Haysville public school system for 30 years. Joanne worked at Catholic schools, as well as for the Institute of Logopedics (now Heartspring) and the FBI.

Maralene was a “farm girl” who grew up northwest of Hays and attended a country school until eighth grade. She attended college for a semester in Lincoln, Neb., before she got married. She and her late husband lived in Florida during his military service. She has also lived in Norfolk, Vir., New York City and New Jersey.

Joanne is originally from a little town called Cambridge, Ohio, not far from Columbus. Her husband worked for Boeing and they too lived all over the country, including Florida, Seattle, the Dakotas, and New Mexico.

“Travel was an education in itself,” Maralene said. “It was very rewarding and eye-opening.”

“I met a lot of nice people,” Joanne said. “That’s why I talk too much. I never met a stranger.”

Both women say they were blessed to feel welcome in every community they joined.

“Presbyterian Manor gives you that same welcoming feeling,” Joanne said. “Don’t be afraid to be yourself — people here are warm and friendly.”

And if you’re struggling, Joanne will step in and help, Maralene said.

“Joanne speaks for people who need a voice,” she said. “That’s why people love her — she’s truthful.”

“It’s nice of you to say that,” Joanne said, almost shyly. “But I can be quiet. I learned that in the FBI.”

With that, the friends started laughing again.

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