Gainesville-born Calvin Mangum was so big and strong for his age that as a young teenager he passed off as a man and got a job at a beer distributor in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he was living in the mid-1960s.
“I left home when I was 13,” Mangum said. “I lived 52 years in Florida working driving tractor-trailers. I was making good money. I bought a house at West Riviera Beach for $31,000 cash.”
Mangum, now 66, is back to his roots in Gainesville, and he’s had his share of setbacks. A few months back he got the bad news from his doctors that his right foot had to be amputated because he let a sore to fester and came down with gangrene. He thinks his many years smoking cigarettes contributed to his problems.
“I started smoking when I was 9,” Mangum said. “My mother used to send me to the store. Back then in the 1950s, you could go to the store for your mother or father and buy them a pack of cigarettes. Cigarettes were 25 cents a pack. Every time my momma sent me to the store, she would give me a nickel. I would hardly ever spend my nickel. I’d come up with 25 cents, she’d send me to get her a pack and I’d get me a pack too.”
Mangum shares a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment at Myrtle Terraces with a friend, Cathy Rell, who previously had a right hand amputated when doctors found it had cancer. Rell and a friend helped Mangum get through the deep depression that befell him when he learned he was going to lose his foot.
They pay $800 a month in rent, but have to stay within their budget because both have expensive medicines to buy.
Mangum takes the wheelchair-access public van service to the Gainesville-Hall Senior Life Center three times a week. He enjoys the camaraderie with other seniors who go there for games, outings and lunch.
Mangum said that while he’s heard some seniors have found themselves in the tough position of deciding between buying medicines or food, he said he’s not had to make that choice.
“I only buy what I can afford,” Mangum said. “I know I have to stretch my Social Security to last me the month.”
Thousands of seniors are able to avail themselves of upscale active adult communities, assisted living facilities or private care around the clock in their own homes. Just 10.8 percent of Hall County’s seniors 65 and older were in poverty in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The poverty rate overall was 18.4 percent that year. That’s 2,579 seniors in poverty, compared to 13,784 children in poverty in Hall.
But some seniors make ends meet on Social Security benefits alone and don’t have family nearby to look after them.
At The Guest House senior day care in Gainesville, Executive Director Dana Chapman said many of her clients depend on Social Security.
Housing appears to be the biggest challenge for them, Chapman said.
“Where can you find in Hall County a one-bedroom apartment that’s accessible in a safe neighborhood for $650?” Chapman asked. “You can’t find it. It’s not here.”
Brandy Palmero, manager of Meals on Wheels at the senior center, said their program is a lifeline for many seniors.
“Sometimes, we’re the only ones they see all day when we deliver their food,” Palmero said. “There have been times we’ve had to call for 911 or ask that a wellness check be done when our volunteers tell us they think something is not right with one of the seniors they deliver to.”