The only thing that Loretta “Dolly” Ames ever wanted was for people to be more aware of the needy.
“It’s hard to sum up a life in a few words, but she was the kind of person that although she had very little, she would give you whatever she had,” Ames’ cousin, Bonnie Bentley, said. “She really understood the concept of unconditional love.”
A few days before her 80th birthday, Ames, a longtime Winter Springs resident and active community board member, passed away, having endeared herself to everyone from local canines to the mayor. Ames was born on Jan. 24, 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio, but she lived for the last 18 years in Winter Springs, where she passed away on Jan. 18.
“Even though she didn’t have a lot of family, she found her substitute family here in Florida,” said Phil Ayres, the pastor of LifePoint Christian Church, where Ames was a member. “She was at every potluck, at every dinner.” Ayres said she loved animals and she loved serving the community and her church.
Ames regularly attended Winter Springs City Commission meetings, and was a member of the Winter Springs Police Department’s Citizens Advisory Committee, and the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
“She was one of the most regular residents at our City Commission Meetings for many years,” Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann said. “She had a nice personal relationship with every one of the city commissioners and the other residents that regularly attended.”
McCann said that Ames had persistence because she was a fighter for her community.
“Isn’t that a nice legacy? When our time here is gone, it sure would be nice to have people think of you the same way,” McCann said. “May we all be so fortunate.”
Jeri Graumlich, 60, said she met Ames 18 years ago, and when she first got to know her, she said that Ames was helping people at her church who were hospitalized or ill. Ames would take care of their homes and pets.
She said Ames was like a grandmother in her family, but also a sweet friend with a strong personality who lived to make people laugh.
“She was passionate about serving and helping others and she was equally passionate if she was frustrated,” Graumlich said. “You never doubted where she stood in anything, it was her gumption that first attracted me to her.”
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She also said that Ames cared so much for animals that Ames was instrumental in helping to bring a dog park to Winter Springs, as she had done in Maryland, where she lived before relocating to Florida.
Graumlich helped Ames as she lost her mobility during recent years. She would help her pay bills, and the two would “buddy up” to go places.
Graumlich said that even though Ames struggled to walk, having a weak leg that forced her to use a walker or wheelchair for mobility, she would ride her three-wheeled cycle around the neighborhood. She would pedal the tricycle, letting her stronger leg do most of the work. Despite having once fallen off of it, Graumlich said the septuagenarian was undaunted.
One of the things Ames was working toward was increasing the time for pedestrian crossing at crosswalks in Winter Springs to benefit the elderly.
“She was feisty, she had a lot of spunk, and a lot of spirit,” Graumlich said. “She was determined to stay as active as she could, both in her mind and her body, even if her body was really working against her.”
Graumlich said that in January Ames went to a hospital because she was feeling weak and ended up being diagnosed with asymptomatic COVID-19, but then, a week and a half later was diagnosed with sepsis-associated encephalopathy, a disease of the brain resulting from inflammation. By the time she was diagnosed, it was too late to save her.
“None of us has a clue, there was nothing in her life that was life-threatening,” Graumlich said.
Bentley, Ames’ cousin, said Ames was non-responsive for four days at the Orlando Health Central Hospital before passing away.
She said she wanted Ames’ memorial, which was held on Jan. 29 at LifePoint Christian Church, to be a call to action for people to help one another..
Bentley imagines Ames in heaven with all her puppies, referring to the nine dogs Ames had cared for over her lifetime. She asked Bentley to see that Ames’ ashes were combined with those of her dogs, then dispersed together at one of her favorite places, the ocean.
“She loved the water,” Bentley said. “She asked me to spread her ashes over the Atlantic Ocean and I have a trip planned to the Florida Keys just to do that.”