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Easter diorama offers comfort to residents of assisted living home
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Thomas Tolbert, Life Enrichment Director at Summers Landing on Limestone, talks to resident Barbara Mueller about the Easter Diorama in the lobby of the facility. - photo by Tom Reed

Decorating for the Easter holiday usually involves displaying a few bunnies and eggs on shelves around the house.
To be sure, there are plenty of the old Easter favorites decorating the rooms of Summer’s Landing at Limestone, an assisted living home in Gainesville.

But in the front seating area of the home, set apart from the pastel decor, residents and staff have set up an elaborate display of Christ’s last week.

“When you go around and see we have Easter with rabbits and everything,” Thomas Tolbert, life enrichment director, said. “That’s important. But this is the true meaning of Easter.”

The Easter diorama is composed of several vignettes illustrating the events of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to the resurrection. The entire diorama is made with Tolbert’s personal collection of more than 550 pieces of detailed Fontanini Nativity figurines.

Tolbert said he has used the collection to help teach his Sunday school class in the past but saw an opportunity to get the residents more involved with the holiday.

“The residents, they love to come up and give tours to their families,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert said he is happy to provide a mini tour of Jerusalem to anyone who would like to see the diorama. Guests also may pick up a Walking with Jesus tour guide to explain the religious significance behind each vignette.

Each day of Holy Week is represented, as well as a few parables from the Bible.

Outside of the home of Pontius Pilate, several roosters can be seen roaming the home to symbolize the denial of Jesus by his disciple, Peter. Jesus told Peter he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed the next morning.

Small displays of daily life, like a woman making perfume and another making olive oil, also are subtly set up between the holy scenes.

While the display was set up with attention to detail, it isn’t just a visual experience. The display is set up on top of sand with soft holiday music playing in the background.

Tolbert said he does not discourage touching the display.

One young boy visiting his grandmother asked if he could touch the small Jesus figurine. His grandmother said no, concerned he might break it. But Tolbert said it was perfectly fine to touch the figurines “because Jesus wants to be touched.”

Many of the residents at the home are receiving care for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Tolbert said those residents get a weekly tour of the display one or two people at a time. He said the activity seems to help them.

“I think they remember and they have the music,” Tolbert said. “Some will just play in the sand and some will just look at the people or touch the things. That’s what we encourage. That gets everybody involved.”

There have been many mornings where the staff will find an early-rising resident studying the display.

Tolbert said the diorama has attracted several groups and churches who come to see the display and visit with residents. There have been so many requests that the home has decided to leave the display up for two weeks after the holiday.

He said many churches and families visiting their loved ones are glad to see the display.

Next year, Tolbert said he plans to add more features to the display. He said he’s committed to displaying more than 2,000 figurines.

“I know a lot of people spend a lot of time on Christmas, and Easter just kind of blows over,” Tolbert said. “I’m just a firm believer that we don’t have Easter without the full meaning.”

Summer’s Landing resident Barbara Mueller said she enjoys looking at the diorama because it helps bring the story of Easter to life. She’s better able to imagine what it must have been like to live at that time.

“It gives people the chance to have an opportunity to look at it and see the background,” Mueller said.

Ruth Westbrook said she, too, enjoys looking at the display and encourages others who might be interested in picturing the final days of Christ to come see it.

“I think a lot of people ought to come see this. It’s just wonderful,” Westbrook said.

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