Assisted Living Facility Resident Builds Over 120 Model Airplanes to Keep Mind and Body Engaged

Seniors Sami and Richard Clopton smile together at The Senior Source, highlighting the positive experiences found in Assisted Living.

Pictured: Richard Clopton (left) and Sami McCauley, a long-term care ombudsman at The Senior Source

by Sami McCauley

I’m Sami McCauley, and I work in the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program at the Senior Source in Dallas County. In my daily job, I help to resolve many issues that plague Seniors living in Assisted Living Facilities and Nursing Homes and help with various resources and referrals. With empathy, I see and talk with seniors about their safety and well-being.

The job is rewarding but comes with many complexities: My coworkers and I go into long-term care facilities in Dallas County (nursing homes and assisted living facilities); we serve as advocates. On visits, my observation is of the residents, quality of life, and care; We educate on resident rights, the role of an ombudsman and listen to issues as we process the best resolution.

Many levels of advocacy start with the education of residents’ rights and legislating for changes in the life and quality of care for nursing home and assisted living residents. The issues I address can include things like facility staff not responding to call buttons quickly enough, or it can be things like food issues. It can be anything since the needs of residents vary vastly. I work hard to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.

Meeting and listening to some residents is very enlightening as you learn interesting stories of lives and history. While on a visit to Mayberry Gardens in Garland, TX, I came across resident Richard Clopton. While being welcomed in, I beheld the most awesome display of hobby airplanes floating by a string, as he was sitting at a table putting more pieces together. His cheerful demeanor made me want to inquire further concerning his motivation. I am inspired by his story, and I want to share it with you.

Despite Struggles, Focuses on What He Can Do

Richard is a 92-year-old widower. He lost his wife over twelve years ago, and he is currently battling terminal cancer. Richard, however, is not one to focus on the negative or on what he cannot do.

Richard Clopton
Richard Clopton holds one of the kits to one of the many model airplanes he has made

When COVID hit a few years ago and we were in lockdowns, Richard decided to pursue something that would keep his mind and hands active. Remembering that he had built model airplanes when he was young and that it took quite a while, he thought this would be the perfect activity to keep him engaged and active.

To say that he has been active would be a tremendous understatement. To date, he has built an amazing 120 model airplanes. Richard is known for his generosity and delights in bringing joy to others, and he has given away 115 of his creations to bring smiles to many.

Richard attended events at the Garland Senior Center, and when he started making model airplanes, he brought one to the Center. They, of course, wanted to buy one from him. He instead donated it and has given them several airplanes since. They have used them, among other things, to give as prizes to winners of Bingo games.

At 92 and with health issues, it is amazing that Richard still has the fine motor skills and manual dexterity needed to build model airplanes. Richard acknowledges that many people his age no longer have this level of dexterity and is grateful for what he has. He is determined to use his abilities and skills to bring cheer and delight to the lives of others.

Richard Clopton Model Airplanes The Senior Source
A few of the model airplanes built by Richard Clopton

Amazingly Resourceful: Assisted Living

Beyond his generosity and other skills, Richard is extraordinarily resourceful. Model airplane costs have increased quite a bit over the last few years. Since Richard likes to finish one model and start right in on another, the cost would have become a hindrance.

Fortunately, Richard is quite resourceful and came up with a creative solution. He started taking the plans for planes that he had already built, scanned them, resized them on his computer, and used the plans to create new airplanes of varied sizes. That’s quite a feat.

Nothing stops Richard. When he comes upon an obstacle, he figures out a way to remove it, go through it, or go over it. With his persistence and resourcefulness, he will get past any obstacle one way or the other.

Is All About Family

Richard enjoys building planes and giving them away to bring joy to others, but he’s all about family. When asked about his priorities and what’s the most important to him, Richard says, “Family always meant everything to me.” reflecting the values of a dedicated family caregiver.

He says further, “I would not trade anything for what I learned coming from a large family. It was great! We each had a specific chore, and it taught each of us we had a job to do and that if we did not do it, it did not get done. Many times, I would finish my task and would help someone else with theirs. We all had the same attitude.” Richard comments that what is most memorable to him about his childhood is the cooperation that he and his siblings had for one another.

Richard has three children and is fortunate that they all live within 10 miles of him. He has seven grandchildren. six great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. He sees his family frequently.

He describes himself as a religious man, and when asked about the secret of staying positive he says, “The Lord has led me all the way through. He gave me a path to follow. If you keep your mind on the Lord, He will guide you all the way.”

Richard is a member of the First Baptist Church in Garland and still enjoys attending services when he can, thanks to one of his sons.

I find Richard to be an inspiration in so many ways. He is kind, generous, resourceful, and won’t let anything stand in his way when he has a goal. He is an extraordinary man and I aspire to be like him in many ways.

If you live in Dallas County and you or a relative are in a nursing home, assisted living facility or other long-term care facility and need the help of an ombudsman (or need assistance with information to be able to select a facility), contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at The Senior Source at 214-823-5700.

About Sami McCauley

Sami McCauley has been a Long-Term Care Ombudsman with The Senior Source for a year. She started as a volunteer ombudsman in California for one year, obtained a Personal Care Assistant, and was granted a scholarship to become a Certified Nurse’s Assistant, all the while caring for her mother who had a severe stroke. She worked in nursing homes and in home supportive services while restoring her career, which sent her on a journey advocating for those in specific assisted living facilities in Dallas County with The Senior Source.

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