You’re never too old to fulfill a lifelong dream as one Logansport woman recently learned.

At 82 years old, Shirley Newport, an avid lover of pandas, had lived her entire life without seeing her favorite animal in person. That changed recently when she was informed she would be fulfilling her bucket list “Live a Dream” thanks to the life enrichment team at WoodBridge Health Campus in Logansport.

“My mother has loved pandas forever,” said Newport’s daughter, Patty Mills. “She has always loved all animals — but she especially loves pandas.”

Pandas are a conservation-reliant, vulnerable species. Wild population estimates show that there are about 2,000 individuals living in the wild in a few mountain ranges of central China.

Newport lives at WoodBridge. The assisted living center has a program called “Live a Dream.” It’s designed to fulfill lifelong dreams of residents of the home.

Jill McMinn, life enrichment director at Woodbridge, said they try to grant as many “Live a Dreams” as possible, ranging from no cost to a bucket list dream.

According to McMinn, the life enrichment team had recently become aware of Newport’s love of pandas.

“This started because the resident was talking to one of our life enrichment associates and told her how much she loves pandas,” McMinn said. “Knowing her health was failing, she didn’t think she’d ever get to see a panda bear in real life.”

That’s when McMinn said the life enrichment team at WoodBridge began researching where there were pandas in the United States. They found the closest one was in Memphis, Tennessee.

At this moment, there are 51 pandas that live in zoos outside of China. These animals live in 18 zoos in 13 countries. The Memphis Zoo is home to two pandas, Ya Ya and Le Le.

As the life enrichment team shared this information with other staff members, it turned out that a nurse’s daughter just so happened to be the vice president of the Memphis Zoo. From there, McMinn says staff members filled out a “Live a Dream” request and things were set in motion.

Shortly after, Newport’s 82nd birthday party was held at the Cass County Carousel in downtown Logansport. It was there she was surprised with a panda birthday cake that was holding a scroll. On the scroll, it informed her that she would be flying to the Memphis Zoo to fulfill her lifelong dream.

Mills said she was ecstatic when she found out she would be sharing the experience with her mother.

“She said that if she had one wish before she dies it would be to see a panda,” noted Mills.

A week after her birthday party, Newport and Mills, along with life enrichment associate Jessica Hettinger and nurse Lori Rayl, were flown from Chicago to Memphis to spend the weekend.

Once at the Memphis Zoo, Newport was given VIP treatment, along with being given private access to spend time with Ya Ya the panda.

“She was driven around on a golf cart and was given behind-the-scenes access to meet Ya Ya the panda,” Mills said of her mother. “After a quick training session with Ya Ya’s handler, she was able to pet her and feed her bamboo out of her hand.”

Mills said that Ya Ya has the personality of a human.

“Her handler said that sometimes it seems like Ya Ya is just a human in a panda suit,” she said.

Mills thanked WoodBridge Health Campus for helping Newport live out her dream.

“Other than having kids, I’d say this was the best experience of her life,” Mills said. “I know she would have taken that panda home with her if she could have.”

Reach Quentin Blount at quentin.blount@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5130. Twitter: @quentinblount

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