There’s nothing like a best friend. Our childhood friends joined us for bike rides, walked with us to school and were our partners for endless shenanigans. As we grew older, they were our voice of reason, our shoulder to cry on and our source of advice. They stood next to us at our wedding, made birthdays special, and helped us through major life events. While the name of our best friend may have changed over the years, their importance remains the same. Best friends are a bright spot in our day, no matter our age or stage of life.
Audrie Bannasch and Jo Heitmeyer live at Fox Manor and are two peas in a pod. They attend Mass together, go to the same activities and even dress alike.
“It started on a shopping trip,” said Audrie. “Jo saw a shirt and I liked it too. We decided to both get one.”
“Now every time I shop, I grab one for her,” Jo laughed.
Audrie was born in Detroit on July 12, 1927 where she lived until she was married in 1947. In June of 1948, Audrie gave birth to their first son, who they named Jerry after her husband. She had a second son in October of 1953. They named him Jim.
In 1950, Audrie and Jerry moved to Royal Oak, Michigan. Jerry worked as a Grinder at the Devlieg Machine Company and Audrie took a job at Brother Rice High School where she worked for sixteen years.
“I was a baker. I worked in the kitchen,” said Audrie.
In 2001, Jerry passed away. Audrie continued to live on her own in Royal Oak for another decade. As time passed, she found managing daily tasks had become more difficult. Her sons helped as much as they could and wanted her to move closer to their homes in Clarkston and Waterford. At that time, she wasn’t sure she wanted to sell her home, but agreed to consider the option.
“I looked at a few facilities, including Canterbury,” said Audrie. “I thought ‘this is a nice place, but it doesn’t feel like home.’”
The parents of Audrie’s daughter-in-law, Lisa, lived at Fox Manor.
“They moved in 1991, the year it opened,” said Audrie.
They invited her to take a tour and Audrie fell in love with the facility. The staff and residents were welcoming and friendly. Audrie felt she’d found a place she could make her own.
“I put my house up for sale two weeks later,” said Audrie.
She moved into Fox Manor on April 1, 2014 with the help of her family. Upon her arrival, Audrie met Betty Kish and the two of them became good friends enjoying bus trips, cards and Wii bowling together. It was through Betty that Audrie eventually met Jo.
Jo Heitmeyer arrived at Fox Manor September 20, 2016.
“I’ve lived in Waterford my entire life,” said Jo. “Approximately two miles from Lourdes.”
Jo worked at GM Truck and Bus for thirty-one years, retiring in 1996. She also served at her local church.
Before moving to Fox Manor, she lived in a condo with her mother. Her father had passed away in 1978. She also lost her brother in 1980.
“That was my immediate family,” said Jo.
She cared for her mother until she passed away in 2007. Afterwards, Jo continued to live on her own. She worked as a minister and co-pastor at a protestant church in Waterford. However, the time eventually came for her to consider other living arrangements.
“Being single and having very little family, I decided to move into independent living apartments.”
She contacted a realtor and began touring facilities. While attending a funeral, some friends informed her of a good senior community in Lapeer. She visited the facility the next week and was put on a waiting list. While waiting to hear back, her pastor suggested she also look at Lourdes Senior Community. Jo visited Fox Manor. Like Audrie, she immediately felt at home, but her condo was still on the market.
She returned home. To her surprise, she had received a call from her realtor. The sale of her condo had gone through.
“I went back to Fox Manor and signed the papers,” said Jo.
Twenty minutes later, she had another call from the facility in Lapeer. Her apartment was ready. She offered her apologies and retrieved her deposit. She had found her new home.
“For a couple of days, I was anxious and nervous,” said Jo. “I worried I wouldn’t fit in, being a minister of another denomination, and never being married or having children. I didn’t know what we were going to talk about.”
Her anxiety didn’t last long. On her second day at Fox, she sat with a group of six women. One of them was Betty Kish. Betty invited Jo to join her and Audrie at Wii bowling. It wasn’t long before they needed another player and Jo joined in the game. To her surprise, she bowled a 299 and two 300 games.
Eventually, Jo tagged along to other activities. She joined them for Euchre on Monday and Friday evenings. It was a new game for Jo, but she learned to play. Audrie was a pro and showed her the ropes.
“Almost immediately I began attending Mass,” said Jo. She also attended a class conducted by Patty Merlo on the different Saint Theresas in Catholicism.
In January 2018, Audrie went to the doctor for a cold and bronchitis. The doctor sent her by ambulance to the hospital.
“They discovered I had COPD and put me on oxygen,” said Audrie.
“I felt lost while she was gone,” said Jo. “We’d grown so close by that time.”
When Audrie returned to Fox Manor, Jo offered her assistance.
“I spoke with her sons Jerry and Jim, and told them I would like to help her. She is very special to me.”
Jo helped Audrie with daily tasks, escorting her to activities much like she had before, but with new purpose to care for her friend.
At that time, Jo was taking classes with Monsignor Bass and planning to convert to Catholicism. She asked Audrie and Betty to be her sponsors and stand with her at her welcoming service. The service took place March 11, 2018 which was also her mother’s birthday.
Jo and Audrie are together daily. They still attend their favorite activities, take bus trips and attend classes together. Each evening they enjoy each other’s company, ending the day in prayer.
“We have continued to grow closer,” said Jo. “She is like my mom and I have gained a special family.”
Friendship is a cherished gift. While we are thankful for our partners and families, a true friend holds a special place in our heart. In some ways, they are our soulmates, knowing us deeply and loving us unconditionally.