At nursing home, a quinceñera celebrates a few decades late

Nilda Lopez beamed when she stepped into the reception hall for her quince — the traditional Hispanic coming-of-age party for 15-year-olds — 75 years overdue.

Lopez, who turned 90 in November, showed it’s not too late to celebrate youth Monday, at a quince organized by staff and neighbors at the Palace Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Kendall.

“I am 90 years old thinking of being 15,” Lopez said, who is a permanent resident at the facility. “It seems impossible. I am delighted.”

Born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, in the 1920s, Lopez grew up poor and said that when she turned 15, “it was just a small cake to cut with the family.”

“I never thought I would be able to do this,” she said.

The second time around, corsage in hand, Lopez had her cake and some music too. In a sparkling silver dress and by the arm of her chambelan, or escort, Lopez stood from her wheelchair and danced as is the tradition, in front of a crowd of over 50 attendees.

The event was the first in a series organized by the center to celebrate National Nursing Home Week, an unofficial holiday to praise the work of nursing home staff and encourage quality care for nursing home residents.

“My goal is to put a smile on their face. Nursing Home Week is a great time to put it all together,” said Debbie Horowitz, activity director at the the Palace, which houses 180 long term and rehabilitation residents.

Lopez said she has been living at the center for three years, and had been participating in its activities prior to moving in. “I am happy and I feel well taken-care-of,” she said.

The theme for this year’s events is Lifetime Memories to reminisce on the residents’ past lives.

“Nilda never had a quince, and so when we asked she jumped at the idea,” Horowitz said. “She loves to bingo, she loves to sing. When the activities are over, she’ll sit in the lobby and greet everyone that passes by.”

Lopez said she was thankful to the staff for their attention — her chambelan was the facility’s medical records director, Alejandro Bello, while Susana Jewell, activities assistant, helped Lopez fit her dress.

Teary-eyed, Lopez’s half-sister and cousin attended the event and watched the popular quiciañera have a ball.

“Her youth was work and effort. They have granted her one of her unfulfilled wishes,” said Lopez’s cousin, Maria del Carmen Finale, 79. “You can see in my face how amazing it was for me to her so happy and excited.”

“I think princess falls short. Today, she’s like a queen,” Finale said.

Along with Lopez’s quince, the facility planned a prom for its residents, who will choose a king and queen of the night. On Friday, the center will organize a wedding where almost a dozen senior couples are expected to renew their marriage vows. The oldest couple will be celebrating 69 years of marriage.

Read more Kendall stories from the Miami Herald

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