Editorial: Hadley adult day care still in loving hands

  • Betty Thayer, right, longtime owner and director of Thayercare in Hadley, chats with participants in the adult day care center, seated from right, Kim Johnson of Florence, Stephanie Henry of Amherst and Joy Smith of Amherst, on Dec. 26. Thayer has sold the business, now called Bakucare, to Pat Ononibaku of Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Thursday, January 04, 2018

We salute Elizabeth “Betty” Thayer for her dedication and compassion in building a successful adult day care center in Hadley, and we are confident that new owner Pat Ononibaku will work with the staff to continue the same loving, family-like atmosphere for its 74 participants.

There were emotional goodbyes exchanged last month when Thayer announced that after 17 years she and her husband Walter were turning the center over to Ononibaku, who formerly owned a restaurant in Amherst and is a longtime advocate for disabled people and social justice activist. Both women attended the Christmas party Dec. 26 at the center in the former rectory of St. John’s Catholic Church, 49 Middle St. Formerly called Thayercare, it has been renamed Bakucare.

“Our motto has always been home away from home, and we’ve always tried to maintain that,” Betty Thayer says, adding that her clients come from different situations. “Some live with families, some live alone. Here they learn to be part of a group and a family.”

Participants include elderly people with dementia, others who have physical ailments and some younger clients with mental challenges. It is a place for them to spend weekdays in a supervised environment away from group homes or parents. Some play games, others watch television, and when the weather is good there are walks on the nearby Norwottuck Rail Trail and more extensive field trips.

Thayer recalls one trip to Cape Cod. “Some had never been to the ocean and it was amazing to see their faces while walking on the beach and watch the sea breeze in their faces.”

She is regarded as family by many of the people who spend time at the center. “Betty is a really good person. It’s really sad she’s retiring,” says Kim Johnson of Florence, who has been a client for five years. “I love Betty to death.”

Stephanie Henry, of Amherst, a participant for four years, says of the center’s staff, “They go all-out to take care of us. I love everything about this. It was more than I expected.”

Thayer, 66, graduated in 1991 from nursing school at Holyoke Community College and then worked as a registered nurse and director at the former Northampton Adult Day Care. She concluded that its space in a nursing home was not the best place for people to maintain their sense of independence.

She found the former rectory in 2001 and began Thayercare with 18 clients, many of whom had been with her at the Northampton site. As the number of participants increased, a 1,000-square-foot addition was put on the building. There was a second Thayercare site in Ware for four years, and some residents of that town are now transported to the center in Hadley, which is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and has 10 staff members.

Ninety percent of the clients are covered by MassHealth, which pays for transportation and health care.

Thayer wrote a book, “What Betty Built: Answering the Need for Workable Adult Daycare,” that was published in 2016. In retirement, she may start a consulting business for adult day care.

Ononibaku says she was familiar with Thayercare because she has a relative who uses the center. “Betty was really welcoming to me and my family member and I love the individual attention my family member receives. There’s a feeling of calmness and safety. It doesn’t feel like an institution.”

Though the name has changed, Ononibaku plans to maintain the staff, continue the activities and stay true to what the Thayers built. “Betty and Walter will always be part of Bakucare,” she says. Ononibaku has created a new website for the center at www.bakucare.com/.

Creating a sense of community is not new for Ononibaku, a native of Nigeria who moved here in 1993. She opened Baku’s African Restaurant on North Pleasant Street in 2005, diversifying the Amherst restaurant scene. Not only did Baku’s become a cultural center for African-Americans, it also was a place where homeless people would be invited in to eat a meal. Ononibaku closed the restaurant in 2016, saying that she was ready for the next chapter in her life.

We are glad that journey has led her to the adult day care center in Hadley, and we are confident that the people who call it their “home away from home” will continue to thrive with the help of Ononibaku’s’s tender touch.