The Matriarch of caregivers

Mary Ann Huber was called to open Twin Oaks Estates in 1981 after working in a skilled care facility. "I just wanted to take them home and love them and care for them," she said of the elderly residents in skilled care. Faith is strong at Twin Oaks, where Huber gave Holy Communion to resident Tony Campisi in April. 

On a cool spring morning, almost two dozen residents lined the pews in the tiny chapel at Twin Oaks Estate in O'Fallon. The weekly Rosary was about to begin, but the regular leader was a no-show. So, Mary Ann Huber jumped right in and started the group in praying the Joyful Mysteries.

Such things come easy to 81-year-old Huber, who with her late husband, Bill, founded the assisted living home out of their house in 1981. She humbly calls herself a "jack-of-all-trades," but the reality is her love for being a caregiver is deeply rooted -- even before she became a mother herself.

Surveying the residence, it's clear from where Mary Ann Huber has drawn her inspiration: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of all mothers. A statue of the Blessed Mother is perched in the corner of the dining hall. The crucifix in the chapel depicts the image of Mary at the foot of the cross. She even purchased an additional 25 acres next to the family property and built an outdoor shrine to Our Lady, Queen of Peace.

"The Blessed Mother has always had a very strong impact on my life," Huber said. "I think it's like when you go to your mom and you ask for something. I ask Mary give me the strength, give me the wisdom, give me the know-how to do all these things." 

Mary Ann Huber prayed the Rosary in the chapel at Twin Oaks Estate, a senior-care facility she opened with her husband, Bill, in 1981. Huber can be found doing whatever needs to be done at the home to serve the residents physically, mentally and spiritually. 

Mary Ann Huber told her daughter, Kim Bauer, about the day when one of the first residents said, "I want to go home" — refering to Twin Oaks Estate. Huber said that made her feel so good that she rejoiced with her hands in the air saying, "Yes!" 

Starting from home

On seven acres just west of Main Street in O'Fallon, Bill and Mary Ann Huber opened their home as a residential care facility for 12 residents, and with the help of just four employees. Over the years, the original homestead was remodeled and expanded, and two other buildings were erected, the most recent in 1995. The interconnected facility accommodates up to 149 residents. Two other senior-care facilities were opened in Wentzville in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, an affordable senior living facility was opened with Missouri tax credits.

In her days as a student at Sacred Heart Academy in Springfield, Ill., Huber wanted to be a nurse. But in her senior year of high school, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she quit school in the last semester and stayed at home. Any thought of becoming a nurse went on the back burner as she cared for her mother.

"After Mom died, I was in a void," she said. "It was hard to keep going. But we were always a Catholic family ... and that's when my faith really grew."

Mary Ann and Bill Huber married in 1953 and had four children. When their youngest, Kim, was 3, Mary Ann decided to pursue that degree. Twenty years after her mom died in 1951, she enrolled at St. Mary's College in O'Fallon.

Daughter Kim Bauer, a current co-owner and human resources director, has vivid memories of her mother balancing parental duties and studying for a degree.

"She used to go into the car and shut the doors to the garage so she could study," Bauer joked.

"Being in the garage I could still hear the kids and then study!" Huber quipped.

Initially, Huber didn't want to be in geriatrics, but one of her first jobs at a skilled care facility swayed her thinking. She worked with residents who were functioning in dramatically different capacities. Some clearly didn't belong in a nursing home.

"They were up and about and able to do things, but as soon as they would come into a nursing home, they would just go downhill because of the environment," she said.

One resident approached her with tears in his eyes, fueled by a sinking depression as he knew he would spend his last days there.

"He said, 'I'm going downhill, aren't I?'"

"I just wanted to take them home and love them and care for them -- well, that's kind of what I did," she said with a smile. 

Faith and dignity

The Catholic faith was an integral piece of the Hubers' life at home. Daughters Kim Bauer and Kathy Blattel (Blattel is also a co-owner and financial director) reminisced about the old pictures and statues, the weekly Rosary with other families in their subdivision, and being involved at Assumption Parish.

That faith spilled over to Twin Oaks. Over the years, Huber influenced several staff members to take RCIA classes.

Doris Bridegan has served as the housekeeping supervisor for 25 years at Twin Oaks, but her relationship with Huber goes back to when she was 16. Bridegan's husband was friends with two of Huber's children, Kevin and Karen, and the group often hung out at the Hubers' home.

Mary Ann Huber has always kept and prayed on the rosary her mother, Lena Miller, gave her as a child.

"We would go over and visit and raid the refrigerator," Bridegan reminisced. "When we said we were going somewhere, she'd pack us up with a lunch and send us off -- even if it was midnight. Mary Ann always looks out for other people. It doesn't matter who it is. She's like a mom, a friend, a sister -- everything."

Adele Prinster has been a resident at Twin Oaks for about a dozen years. Her relationship with Huber also extends further back, to when they volunteered to clean the church at Assumption. 

Prinster had eight children; the time came when her family told the 97-year-old she could no longer stay at home by herself. "They told me, 'Go here, go there, go there,' and I said no. They said, 'Where do you
want to go?' I've been talking to Mary Ann. I think that's where I'd like to go," she said, keenly aware of the presence of faith in her new home. "I thought it was a good place to live; what more could you ask for?"

While Huber doesn't like to draw attention to it, perhaps the most significant way she cares for some residents is by bringing them Communion twice a week.

"She'll give them the Eucharist right before they pass away, and that's a huge honor to her," daughter Kim Bauer said. "She knows she's been able to make that final influence in their life."

After a short Communion service in the chapel, Huber brought the Eucharist to several residents in their rooms. Elizabeth "Betty" Mikulin was sitting in her recliner; she revealed it was a rough day for her, but when Huber gave her Communion, a sense of calm came over her. She grabbed Huber's hand: "Every time I see you, I think, 'Oh, that's my friend.' Honestly, I do."

"Some of their memory isn't good, but I think people who have been raised that way, inside, they don't forget the Eucharist," Huber said.

For many residents, this is the final home where they spend their last days, "and they would never have another chance at having to receive Communion," Huber said. "I think the spiritual aspect runs deep throughout this whole facility." 

Mary Ann Huber visited with her longtime friend, 97-year-old Adele Prinster, in her room at Twin Oaks Estate.

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