Talking with Della Salter is like getting a card from an old friend, or eating an ice cream sundae. It just makes you feel good!
If there is a word to describe this Mennonite Memorial Home villa resident, it’s “positive.”
“I’m positive because I’ve had a very positive life,” she emphasized. Salter has lived in her two-bedroom villa on Pinebrook Drive, Bluffton, for more than 30 years. She was the second person to move in after her villa was built.
“I feel like it’s really a community here,” she added. “My children are thrilled that they no longer have to worry about me and, should I ever need nursing care, Mennonite Memorial Home is right in my backyard, part of the same organization.”
Salter was born in Putnam County, but grew up near Rockport, Ohio, and graduated from Beaverdam High School. Her only lament is that Beaverdam didn’t offer any art classes. . . and she loved art. She recalled that the only thing resembling art instruction was, “folding green construction paper and making a tree at Christmas and folding orange construction paper for a pumpkin at Halloween.”
After high school graduation, she applied to Bluffton (College) University, even though she had only enough money to cover tuition for one year. Not realizing she needed to take some “core” classes, she signed up for all of Professor Klassen’s art classes and he helped her get as much art instruction as possible.
Life in the City
Della and her husband Stanley grew up on neighboring farms. After they married, Stanley accepted a position teaching music at a large high school in Detroit. It turned out to be a 30-year commitment…for both of them. Della and Stanley were a true team, with him instructing and coaching the students and her doing set design and construction. It was a labor of love.
“The students performed all of the big Broadway musicals,” she remembered, “’My Fair Lady,’ ‘South Pacific,’ ‘Showboat’ and so many others.” She said that her husband was a real inspiration for his students, many of whom followed musical careers. They became music teachers, performers, or have non-musical careers but still love music. A former student was the director of the Greater Miami (Florida) Opera, where her own son was once a set designer.
When asked if she is musical, she replied, “I’m Welsh, aren’t I?” Although she feels she doesn’t have a good singing voice, she reads music and has played instruments. She loves the opera, ballet and symphony, and performances were plentiful in Detroit. The one tragic occurrence in her life was Stanley’s death at age 53. He was getting ready to attend a music conference when he died suddenly at home.
Back to Her Roots
Always eager to learn, Salter was attending a summer adult education program at Bluffton University when friends convinced her to move to Bluffton. It was a good decision.
“I love Bluffton,” she added. “Here, they carry your groceries out to your car, and when I need my car fixed, they pick it up and drop it off and tell me to pay the next time I come into town. As much as I liked Detroit, these things wouldn’t happen there.”
Della’s villa has a storage room off the garage that’s been converted into her art studio. She put in a paved patio that overlooks the villas’ community garden.
“I have such friendly neighbors,” she smiled. “It’s a pleasure to live in a villa at Mennonite Memorial Home. The staff are my guardian angels. In an emergency, I can just push a button.”
Although they may no longer worry about her, Salter’s three children keep in touch, including two in Michigan and one who is teaching school in Thailand. She traveled there to attend his wedding, but is now content to visit by phone a few times a month. Just like in her early life, she remains busy, teaching in the OVAL (Our Version of Adult Learning) program through Bluffton Senior Citizens, reading and traveling. She is excited about an upcoming trip to Saskatchewan, where she has “lots of cousins.”
“My father settled in Ohio, but the rest of his family settled in Saskatchewan because you could get free land in the western section,” she explained. “I’m planning a visit there with my brother, niece and her husband.”
A voracious reader, Della usually has a fiction and non-fiction book going at the same time. She joked that if someone ever removed all the books from her villa, the walls would fall down.
Quick to recognize the accomplishments of others, she doesn’t dwell on her own achievements. In fact, she feels that she doesn’t deserve much notoriety.
“I guess you could say that in the 30 years I’ve been in Bluffton, I haven’t had any major accomplishments, but I’ve had a very good time,” she laughed. “My goal is to try and make someone smile each day.”
After talking with Della, one can only add, “Mission accomplished!”