Sister Helen Lange figures her work is far from done.
The 99-year-old nun makes the rounds daily at Heritage Park Health and Rehabilitation Center, the nursing home where she lives, in search of other residents who need attention.
"I go up and down the halls, trying to make people laugh and smile," said Sister Lange, a retired certified nursing assistant who once served as a director of volunteers and pastoral minister at a different facility in St. Petersburg. "I've always seen my role as the jokester of God."
She also writes fundraising letters — lots of them, now that her fellow Benedictine Sisters of St. Leo need donations to build a new residential hall.
And she does it all while being legally blind.
Sister Lange has been fighting macular degeneration since 1950. Although she is happy to kiss the cheeks of friends and family members, she can no longer make out their facial features. And in order to write those fundraising letters and personal correspondence — or, for that matter, to pursue her favorite pastime of reading — she uses a large glass reader that magnifies her books and papers onto a large television screen, similar to the way an overhead projector works.
One of her former students at St. Anthony Catholic School, where she taught in 1948-49 and in 1978-79, gave her the reader 10 years ago. "He told me I was one of his favorite sisters," she said with a smile.
Now, however, her reader isn't working as well as it once did. And while she is pleased to solicit funds on behalf of worthy causes, she refuses to ask her philanthropic contacts for a single donation to replace it.
"I don't ask for anything for myself," explained Sister Lange, who recently celebrated her 80th anniversary as a Benedictine nun. "And if I get anything, I usually give it away."
Even so, Sister Lange admits that she's been praying for a new reader. And with a little help from the community, the Dade City-Heritage Park Lions Club hopes to answer her prayer.
Mary Beth Lumbra, social services director at Heritage Park, is also president of the local Lions Club. She has announced the club's commitment to start a collection effort on Sister Lange's behalf to purchase a reader that could cost as much as $1,200.
"We are now set up to accept checks to purchase a reader for Sister Lange," said Lumbra. "And if anyone has a new or used reader that works well, they are welcome to donate it."
Lumbra has seen Sister Lange's good works for herself.
"She still likes to keep up with the news and events in the community," Lumbra said. "She also still travels with (the sisters) to raise funds and put on special events" at Saint Leo University.
Lions Club members have gotten to know the beneficiary who lives at their home base — and who, in their eyes, has brought light to the entire community.
"This is a special lady who still dedicates her life to serving," said Shirley LePage, public relations representative of the Dade City-Heritage Park Lions Club.