Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson Community mourns passing of fun-seeker, philosopher

By on May 9, 2012

By: MELISSA HUNNEFIELD Record Express Staff, Staff Writer

Photo by Peggy Kammerer
Dixie Robinson (and Gwendolyn) pose with a display Dixie created in the lobby of Moravian Manor when the residents were celebrating Groundhog Day.

Dixie Robinson passed away peacefully at her home in Lititz on April 21. She was 77 years old.

Dixie was a proud, lifelong registered nurse who worked in Bucks County and most recently at Hospice of Lancaster. She loved to travel, watch football, but most of all she loved her extended family. She was also president of the Moravian Manor Residents Association and a member of the Moravian Manor Board of Trustees.

This, like most obituaries, only begins to scratch the surface.

“Dixie served on the Development Committee, the Resident Services Committee and the Infection Control Committee,” Peggy Kammerer, Moravian Manor’s director of community services told us. “She chaired the Community Life Committee that plans social events for our residents as well as serving on the Education Committee (Doors to Learning). She was extremely outgoing and loved to plan fun social events for our apartment and cottage residents.”

Dixie loved Groundhog Day. She had a stuffed groundhog, Gwendolyn, whom she dressed up in sequins and a tiara back in her nursing days. She used to bring Gwendolyn with her to work on Groundhog Day to cheer up the patients. She’d encourage the hospital residents to sing songs about Groundhog Day, set to familiar tunes.

Eventually Gwendolyn the Groundhog found her way to Moravian Manor. “The tradition continued here when Dixie was chair of the Community Life Committee,” Kammerer said, “when the residents celebrated Groundhog Day with a potluck dinner followed by a sing-along — groundhog songs!”

While fun was always on the agenda when Dixie was around, she was very serious about her work at Moravian Manor. In 2010, she was approached with an idea that would change her life — and the lives of many area seniors and high school students as well. Dixie was challenged with the task of forming a Socrates Café at Moravian Manor.

Socrates Cafés are gatherings around the world where people from different backgrounds get together and exchange thoughtful ideas and experiences while embracing the Socratic Method. The groups model their discussions from the 2002 book “Socrates Café: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy” by Christopher Phillips. Today, there are over 600 ongoing gatherings around the globe coordinated by hundreds of volunteers.

Dixie became the facilitator of discussion when a group of Moravian Manor residents began meeting monthly to exchange ideas about various hot topics. They soon discovered, however, that something was missing.

“In August of 2010, a group of residents (Dixie included) and staff from Moravian Manor met with Dr. April Hershey, Dr. Peggy Montgomery and Mr. Michael Smith over lunch to brainstorm over how residents at Moravian Manor and students in the Warwick School District could relate to one another and mutually benefit by sharing intergenerational experiences,” Kammerer explained.

They made a decision to contact Carolyn Hoy, gifted support teacher at Warwick High School, about the possibility of her students having the opportunity to integrate into the Socrates Café.

“The first session with the gifted class took place on Oct. 10, 2010,” Kammerer said, “and the first topic for discussion was from a text the students were studying, ‘What is Love?'”

The group, containing 6-8 residents and a cadre of 7-8 students from Hoy’s advanced seminar class, continued to meet monthly, with Dixie serving as facilitator.

She researched the best way to keep the discussion flowing, how to deal with dissent and how to remain neutral, even when she herself had a strong opinion about the subject matter. A Socrates Café is considered a success when participants leave a discussion with many more questions than they had at the beginning.

A Socrates Café is meant to bring together as broad a cross-section of people as possible. Dixie quickly learned how to encourage others to lend their unique perspectives — which were varied, indeed.

“They are all pretty unassuming people,” said Carolyn Hoy of the older adults in the discussion group. “It’s only recently that I have come to know that one of them survived the fire bombing of Dresden; one was instrumental in the clean up of the Three Mile Island disaster; one invented some brand of ice cream; one was a music teacher at every level from elementary to college; one is an astrophysicist. They are truly more interested in the students’ lives and accomplishments than in talking about their own accomplishments.”

“One of the topics we all seemed to enjoy was a piece written by Tom Brokaw about the value of failure,” Hoy continues. “The residents had a lot to share about their life lessons and asked the high school students good probing questions. All of the Moravian Manor residents are retired professionals, so the dialogue has a tendency to be fairly intellectual. One resident, John, always has his notebook of questions that he wants to discuss. He challenges us!”

“I think it’s really sweet to talk to an older generation that isn’t related to you and won’t have preconceived notions of what you are supposed to be,” said participating Warwick student Ryan Bertrando. “You can’t get that anywhere else. I really enjoy it.”

“I like the way they (the residents) always play devil’s advocate with helping us see their experiences and how it ties into the bigger picture of life,” commented Warwick senior Casey Thomas.

It’s been a learning experience for students and the aged alike. “I feel like the residents of Moravian Manor, with their ability to still be learning, thinking, and doing well into their 70s and 80s, are good role models for my students, who may have trouble looking down the road to the big picture of life,” said Hoy. “We are able to talk as people, and forget that some of us are 17 and others 70. It’s really, from an educator standpoint, exactly what I want for my students: to see that you can achieve, learn, love, grow and experience all life has to offer — for your entire life.”

Dixie would be thrilled to know that the local Socrates Café will continue to meet after her death.

“Dixie was a lifelong learner, and facilitating Socrates Café was right up her alley,” said Kammerer. “She loved young people and anytime she could be part of an activity with Warwick students she was happy to do so. You might say she liked to be where the action was and she made very valuable contributions wherever she served.”

Hoy is thankful for Dixie’s contributions.

“The interaction between these retired professionals and high school students is something no less than magical to see,” she said, “I am so grateful to Dixie Robinson, who worked hard to make this group a rich and rewarding time. You touched all our lives, Dixie, and you will be sorely missed by all, but especially by our Socrates Café.”

To learn more about Socrates Café, visit More DIXIE, page A18

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