By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
During one of Anne DeGroff's visits to the Sarah Jane Sanford Home in Amsterdam, Nancy Hopkins said she liked her handbag.
"I said, 'Oh Nancy, if you love it, I'll get you one,'" DeGroff said. "But then I called on some other ladies and they all said, 'what a pretty pocketbook.' Now I thought, what am I going to do?"
The Sanford Home was established for women more than 65 years old who want to live independently, but need extra care on-site. DeGroff, who said she has loved Vera Bradley bags since the 80s, said she couldn't possibly purchase purses for the 40 women who live at the home.
So, she wrote a letter to the company's Indiana headquarters asking for help.
"Well, I actually wrote two letters," DeGroff said. "They sort of ignored my first letter, but I didn't give up on it."
The women, sipping tea and nibbling on cookies Tuesday, the reason they though they were gathered in the dining area, looked around at each other. The staff told them they were each going to receive a prize, but they knew nothing else about it and they were getting antsy.
DeGroff walked over to Hopkins and kneeled down. She reminded her and the roomful of women of the time in May when Hopkins had admired her pocketbook. She said she had every intention of buying her a matching purse until she visited the other ladies of the home who also liked her purse.
"I had created kind of a sticky situation for myself," DeGroff said. "In fact, I was even afraid to come back and see you, because I didn't have a pocketbook for you, because I couldn't bring you one and not the other ladies."
Then, she told them all about their surprise present.
"They have donated one bag for each lady here," DeGroff said, as the women cheered and applauded. "And it's all because of Nancy."
"No," Jeanne So, administrator of the home, said, "It's because of Anne. Anne did all this."
DeGroff left the room and reentered with handfuls of strapped clutch purses, all decorated in different Vera Bradley-style quilted patterns, and handed them out to each woman.
"Oh wow," Beulah Colliton exclaimed once she received her green and brown pocketbook. "This is the perfect size to go to the casino. What a surprise. We truly got a surprise today."
Women traded styles with neighboring tables as the room buzzed with excitement. Some staff members helped the women to remember how to wear them across their shoulder, one even joking "we'll have to go get you a date now."
DeGroff told the ladies they don't have to use their plain, old, tattered, leather bags anymore.
"The purse I use now? I don't even have one now," Lucy Puglia said. "I gave them all away. I am going to enjoy this. I'm going to put everything in it, bring it everywhere."
Once DeGroff reached Nancy Hopkins' table, she could not longer hold in her emotion. Hopkins, who has Alzheimer's, clutched the bag tightly.
"She's crying now because she's made you all so happy," So announced. "She worked very hard on this, ladies."
When DeGroff's husband of 53 years died four years ago, she devoted her life to calling on the women at the Sanford Home. She also served on the ladies' board of the Sanford Home for two years.
"When I come to visit, you might think that I'm trying to do you a favor," DeGroff said. "But, I'm the one who gains from it. I love visiting you."
So replied: "And we love having you."