By Amy Gallo | Photos by Audrey Jacobs
Seventy-eight year-old Bella Hoffmann is a woman of few words, but that doesn’t mean she lets people walk all over her. “Okay boss lady,” she taunts as Golden Wishes committee member Lisa Cove reminds Hoffmann to keep her hands still while her nails dry. Cove laughs. “Yep, she’s a spunky one!”
Spirited and strong-willed, Hoffmann ignored one very important person’s opinion when deciding to apply for her makeover wish. “Bella’s husband, George, is very conservative. He didn’t think that she needed a makeover,” says Cove. “But we decided to bypass him and do it anyway!”
Hoffmann’s wish was brought to the Golden Wishes committee by Episcopal Church Home social worker Beth Farone in August. The committee, sponsored by Lifespan, Omnicare, and the James P. Wilmot Foundation, consists of ten volunteers who set up experiences to fulfill seniors’ simple wishes. “We know that people need food, clothes, blankets – but we don’t do gifts,” says Cove. “We’re an experience-based organization. The smiles on people’s faces are worth more than anything money could buy.”
And Hoffmann’s smile isn’t the only one worth more than a million dollars. “One of my favorite wishes was from a little, 92 year-old Italian woman,” says Cove. “She came over to the U.S. from Italy for an arranged marriage when she was just sixteen years old. When her wish came to us, her husband had passed away and she wanted to experience something that her marriage had never allowed her: a real first date! A young man on our committee took her to the movies and out for ice cream, and even gave her a kiss on the cheek at the end of the night,” says Cove. “Her family was calling us for months afterwards, telling us how happy we had made their mother – she wouldn’t stop talking about that night!”
Cove hopes that Hoffmann’s day of pampering will produce the same elation. Starting her day at Blue, a Goodwill Boutique on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford, Hoffmann’s frank nature comes out in full force: “When the sales associate held up clothes for Bella to try on, she was brutally honest,” says Episcopal Church Home nurse Yolanda Rodriguez, who accompanied Hoffmann for the day. “They would say, ‘Isn’t this pretty?” And she would flat-out tell them, ‘No!’” All of us in the salon, including Hoffmann, break out in laughter.
After picking out a sparkly red sweater set, black slacks, silver shoes, and a stunning bracelet, Rodriguez, Hoffmann, and Cove move onto Salon Bella Vita on South Main Street in Pittsford to continue the makeover – where energetic owner Tiffanie Prota greets everyone with a huge smile. After ordering the makeover recipient a BLT sandwich for lunch, Prota goes right to work on Hoffmann’s hair.
“She has gorgeous hair,” says Prota of Hoffmann’s shiny, thick gray locks. “We’re just going to blend in some blond highlights to brighten up the color.” As Prota adds layers of foil to Hoffmann’s head, they chat about everything from traveling to kids to pets. Cove starts on her nails and the conversation soon switches to Hoffmann’s life.
A native of Germany, Hoffmann and her husband both emigrated to the U.S. and married in Rochester. Stern as he was about her makeover, his dedication to Hoffmann is far from hidden. “He comes and visits her every single day,” says Rodriguez. “They have lunch together, take a walk. It’s very sweet.” The couple, married 53 years, have three children; two sons who live locally and a daughter who lives in New York City, as well as three grandchildren. Hoffmann worked as an office secretary for most of her life – and even though she doesn’t work anymore, she keeps herself quite busy. An avid reader, Hoffmann’s eyes light up when I ask her about her favorite books. “I read everything,” she says. “I like biographies, but I’ll read anything I can get my hands on!” She also knits – sweaters, mostly – and is a big fan of classical music. “Of course I’ve seen the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra,” she says. “They’re wonderful.”
The talking ceases for a while as Prota begins to blow-dry Hoffmann’s new haircut. When she sees her shoulder-grazing, all one-length hair cut into a short, layered modern bob for the first time, the woman of few words definitely has something to say. “Well, I’ll be!” Hoffmann says, as a smile slowly spreads across her face. “I like it; it’s good.”
Prota applies some simple makeup and puts the finishing touches on Hoffmann’s new look. “Is George even going to recognize you?” says Cove. “You look like a totally new woman!” Hoffmann enjoys a post-makeover ice cream treat from Ben & Jerry’s in Pittsford as she gets ready to return to the Episcopal Church Home for a surprise dinner with her husband. “I like you ladies – especially you,” she says to Prota with a wink. And with that, the spunky senior is wheeled out the door with a feisty new look and a huge smile of delight on her face.