SIOUX CITY -- When Joann Clark's son, Rusty, proposed having Rhonda Capron help her with some light housekeeping and escort her around town for shopping and appointments, the 92-year-old bluntly said she "fought it."
"I was an only child, and you get pretty independent and think you can do everything by yourself. My son knew I couldn't, so he hired her," Clark said, motioning to a smiling Capron, as she sat in a vintage armchair at Brookdale Senior Living.
Clark said she knew of Capron, a City Council member who founded Rhonda's Senior Support Service -- a non-medical home care business -- after leaving the bar business in 2014. In fact, a lady who lived across the hall from Clark received assistance from Capron.
"I'd see her coming and going, but I never really talked to her," said Clark, who to her surprise, just seemed to "click" right away with Capron.
Today, the two are the best of friends as Capron chauffeurs Clark around in her gold SUV. They stop at the salon to get Clark's hair washed and styled or her nails painted an eye-catching shade of green, pick up a chocolate shake at Dairy Queen (Clark loves ice cream) and see the sights of Sioux City. Highlights of their trips have included Grandview and Cone parks, Briar Cliff University, the Singing Hills water tank that pays homage to the 1945 song "Sioux City Sue," and the Seaboard Triumph Foods pork plant, which Clark has witnessed being built from the ground up.
"Anything that's happening in the city that I need to go look at," Capron said chuckling, as she gently placed her hand on Clark's arm. "My whole thing is taking her out and having some fun."
Back at Clark's apartment, Capron might water the plants, do a load of laundry, bake a key lime pie or just sit and chat with Clark. They talk about anything and everything.
"We're here for each other. We've gotten very close," said Capron, who seeks to treat her clients as a "good daughter" would. "Something like I do -- there's got to be a connection there. We just like to have fun. We like to smile and enjoy life and make every moment count."
Clark piped in, "We don't want down people."
A new chapter
Before Rhonda's Speakeasy closed, Capron said customers repeatedly asked her, "What are you going to do? Where are you going to go?"
Capron mentioned in a Journal story that she was starting a home care business and the calls came flooding in. Taking care of seniors just seemed like a good fit for Capron, whose paternal grandmother lived with her family when she was growing up in Ocheyedan, Iowa. That grandmother, as well as Capron's maternal grandmother, both ended up in nursing homes.
"My mother took a job at the nursing home so she could be around her mother every day. She knew everybody at the nursing home, so she was kind of their surrogate daughter in a way," Capron said. "It's about love and respect -- taking care of people."
Capron didn't have any employees at first, but when she started taking care of a woman with dementia, who eventually needed 24/7 supervision, she realized she couldn't do it alone. She began hiring staff, many of whom used to work for her as bartenders. Capron currently employs six "happy girls," who serve seven clients with her as a team.
"I tell people it's an extension of a good daughter, so whatever your daughter would do, we would do -- cook, clean and take them for rides," Capron said. "We're not nurses. We're not CNAs."
Some of Capron's clients have dementia and like to wander around at night. She said she and her staff have found purses in ovens and pillows in the refrigerator. With relatives often living out of town, Capron said her clients would likely go to a nursing home, if it wasn't for her business. She said some of them struggle with dressing themselves, using the restroom and eating.
"When they get up in the morning, we make sure they take their pills, brush their teeth, give them a little sponge bath if they need it and comb their hair," she said. "Every person's different. It's just whatever they need."
Capron keeps family members up to date on what's going with their loved ones through daily phone calls and text messages. She even sends photos of her clients out and about having fun. Capron recently took Clark to the Mardi Gras Festivale at the Tyson Events Center, where she snapped pictures of a beaming Clark flanked by costumes decorated with beads, glitter and feathers, which she sent to Clark's children.
"You have to give them a good day or a good moment. When you do that, you're doing that for yourself, too," she said. "It's not just a job, it's a passion."