It was horrible that something like this could be happening right in front of our eyes and we wouldn’t even know it.
Poldi Tonin, 87 years old, began 2023 in a safe new home and with cautious hope for a new life, six months after she was rescued from the filth and rot of her rat-infested East Dallas house, long cut off from the outside world.
Poldi is a well-read and street-smart woman who moved back to Dallas after spending many years working in New York City; I first told her story in August. In 1987, she purchased a white-frame cottage near Lakewood’s edge and began taking the bus to her downtown office.
Poldi finally gave in to the lingering effects of a devastating trauma from her childhood, events that she still refuses to talk about. She suffered from depression and anxiety, which led to a distorted sense of mistrust, anger, and the ultimate decision to live in complete isolation with her beloved terrier, Lexi.
Poldi Seemed Doomed To Die Alone With Lexi In Her Toxic Home, Despite Having Rejected Numerous Offers Of Assistance
Then the charity workers from St. Vincent de Paul’s Society at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church showed up, bringing their infinite patience. Even Poldi’s stubborn armor, designed to make her appear stronger than she is, wasn’t enough to scare them away.
Maria Stanley, who has been in charge of Poldi’s St. Vincent squad, said, “This is what we are supposed to do.” Think about it, if everyone helped out just one person.
Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of witnessing Maria and fellow Vincentian Chuck Stegman welcome Poldi to her new home in The Peak, a gleaming new apartment development within Juliette Fowler Communities in Old East Dallas.
Poldi, a charming and seemingly younger version of the woman I met in August, exclaimed, “a day of surprises” as she unearthed treasure after treasure that volunteers had pulled from the crumbling interior of her now-demolished home.
Ancient family photographs from the turn of the century. Jewish doorpost mezuzahs that had been there since she moved out. A fine mirror, porcelain, and Waterford crystal accessories. She had her two most prized scarves from Neiman Marcus custom-framed many years ago.
Poldi, Age 87, Makes Her Way Into Her New Home For The First Time
The apartment is bright and cheerful, decorated in Poldi’s favorite colors of blue and white with touches of the interior design magic Maria brought in to make it just right. Maria gently reminded Poldi that the missing drawer from her antique buffet had been eaten by mice during her final years in her old house.
Poldi has few recollections of the dire circumstances that prevailed prior to her rescue. However, her days have changed dramatically ever since the Vincentians relocated her to an extended-stay hotel in North Dallas and then to the roomy apartment.
She has slept in a clean bed, showered, and eaten nutritious meals. She now receives regular medical care, has overcome her fear of riding in cars, and is reading the newspaper again to catch up on the many world events she missed.
“She had no idea what day it was, what month it was, or what year it was,” Maria told me. To this day, she has no idea what chronic wasting disease (COVID) is. I mean, how could she? Poldi appears to be in excellent physical condition. She’s a strong, brave woman, qualities that served her well in the midst of the hell she endured.
But even the strongest of us need help sometimes, and I can’t even begin to describe the miracle that Maria and her team have worked to create for Poldi in the form of her “going-forward life.”The future is important to the new Poldi, who plans to replace books she loved that were lost in the fire, resume her genealogical research and needlepoint, and assist the Juliette Fowler team with an upcoming history project.
Maria tells Poldi Over And Over, “You Can Start Over At 87, And We’re Supporting You As You Do Just That”
Poldi’s future looks bleakest when she thinks about Lexi, the sweet 12-pound terrier who used to sleep curled up next to her on the bed in the old house, barking at the rats to keep them away. With Poldi’s ambivalent approval, Lexi has been adopted by a Dallas family who “treat their dogs like gold,” according to Maria. Lexi has been living with wonderful fosters since the pair’s rescue.
Poldi warned me not to try and win her back by asking for her hand in marriage. “She’s in a much safer environment now,” I reassured her. Poldi gets around fine with the help of a cane, but she can’t provide for Lexi, who is recovering from her own trauma at home, because of her own mobility problems and short-term memory loss.
Chuck remembers the dead rat rotting in the middle of the room where Poldi invited him and Maria to sit during their first visit to the Abrams Roadhouse in July. Seeing Poldi in her current state is “nothing short of a miracle,” according to Chuck, who often spends hours chatting with her about current events and family history.
“Maria Just Has A Way Of Connecting To People And Is Convincing,” He Said
From what Maria has told me, Poldi’s rescue couldn’t have occurred without Chuck’s involvement. I never would have entered that room without him and kept coming back for more. Poldi’s new beginning has been paved by a posse of kindhearted individuals, many of whom hail from St. Thomas Aquinas.
Poldi was given excellent service during her nearly six-month stay at the Sonesta Extended Stay Suites. Now that she has sold her house, she can afford to live in style at Juliette Fowler. Becky Oliver, a local realtor and a member of the congregation, facilitated the sale at no cost to the seller. Craig Penfold, of Chicago Title, also provided his services without charge.
Becky was shocked in August to learn that Poldi was living in such appalling conditions in a house that she and countless others passed by hundreds of times a year. Becky remarked, “It was awful that in this community, where there is so much affluence, something like this could be going on right beneath our noses and no one knew.”
In Maria’s opinion, it is not. As far as she is concerned, we are all here to do good deeds for others, not to sit around and wait for someone else to do it.
Her high school-aged son and daughter, as well as her husband, James, were well aware that they should stay out of her way. Even for Maria, a clinical gerontologist and social worker who has seen her fair share of difficult cases, the past six months have been exhausting.
The reward is the confidence that comes from knowing she set Poldi on the road to recovery, with the unwavering backing of Maria, Chuck, and the rest of the St. Vincent team. The formerly sour octogenarian says with a chuckle that she hopes to reach the age of 100.