Iola Caldwell wins OKALA Caregiver of the Year Award for Longevity two years.

Iola Caldwell springs from hardworking small-town Oklahoma stock. Diligence, meticulousness, and self-sacrifice characterized the lives of her parents, and their values have been passed down undiluted to their daughter. Growing up in Depression-era Oklahoma required a unique kind of personal determination and pride in oneself and in work. Iola’s father made hand-crafted leather saddles that still exist. Her mother, in addition to caring for her family, washed dishes in a local restaurant. Iola remembers that her mother always admonished her to “always do your best.”
A youth of 82 years, Iola’s best includes careful, specialized attention to the laundry of all the residents at Rivermont Gardens Assisted Living. For the last sixteen years, Iola has faithfully treated the residents and families at the Gardens the way she would want to be treated herself. No matter what particular wishes or demands an individual may have, Iola meets them. Here are some actual, verifiable examples of individual laundry requirements imposed by various residents for whom Iola cares:
One man required that at all times, ten empty plastic (only) hangers were to be left in his closet. Another man insisted that his pants be dried for five minutes, only-no more and no less-and then hung by the cuffs. Two current residents require that their sheets and bedspread be washed bi-weekly only. Another woman wants all her clothes hung on velvet hangers. There are approximately 58 residents in the Gardens, and each one is an individual who receives respect, right down to the way their washcloths are folded. “I have a certain way I like to fold the towels and washcloths,” says the Queen of Laundry.
While these demands may seem petty to some, Iola respects the preferences of the people who live at the Gardens. She not only abides by their wishes, but is cheerful and even proud of the way she provides such individualized service. “I’m here for the residents” is Iola’s constant motto. Soiled or stained clothing is lovingly cleaned, scrubbed, repaired, unstained, re- sewn, re-buttoned, and returned to the resident without complaint. Other staff-members joke that Iola knows the owner of every sock and washcloth in the entire building, and it is true! “I do watch out for people’s things,” Iola says. “I try to make sure that everything is returned to the particular place that each resident keeps it. I want them to be able to find their things easily.”
A full-time employee, Iola is punctual and dependable. She is unfailingly cheerful and diligent. She says “My work is a joy.” And it is obviously so-never grouchy, never discouraged, and never failing, Iola not only enjoys work, but participates in a bowling league, the Moose Lodge, Eastern Star, VFW, and a national railroad employee organization. Iola is an avid University of Oklahoma sports fan, wears school colors on appropriate days, and attends games regularly.
For uniqueness, it would be difficult to match an 82 year old laundress who works circles around employees fifty years her junior. Regarding her example to other employees, she is never absent or late, and her work is not only done, but done with a meticulous attention to detail that defies description. She works as a team with housekeepers to ensure efficient processing of laundry. Iola’s oversight of residents’ possessions reflects her deep care for their dignity and quality of life. What is more basic to quality of life than having clean and well cared-for clothing and bedding? As an example of independence, Iola is older than a number of her clients at the Gardens Assisted Living. She works full-time, stays physically fit, and clearly enjoys a very active social life outside of work. Simply knowing and observing her on a daily basis encourages residents to be independent like Iola. Ageism? Please! The very life that Iola lives is a slap in the face to ageism. She is more active than many who are half her age. And she has such joie de vivre! To her, everything is fun. What could be more opposite to the stereotype of grumpy, sedentary, depressed old age?
In summary, we have never met a better example of willing, committed, service to a senior care employer or senior clients and employees than Iola Caldwell. As one staff-member put it, “It is an honor to work with her.” We agree.