Wilkes faces macular degeneration with determination

Published 10:48 pm Monday, September 15, 2008

By Staff
Works daily at The Blind Center in Washington
Lifestyles &Features Editor
Emilie Wilkes of Washington hasn’t let a malady like macular degeneration get her down.
The medical condition, which usually affects the eyesight of senior citizens, causes loss of vision in the center of the visual field. The condition makes it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, but enough peripheral vision often remains so the patient can continue daily activities.
Wilkes said she noticed a change in her eyesight nearly eight years ago, which prompted her move from Georgia to Beaufort County, where her daughter Donna and son George now reside.
Wilkes continues to live alone, occupying an apartment in town. Her children make sure she has transportation for doctors’ appointments, church services and shopping expeditions. She does all her own laundry, cooking and cleaning, but the eye condition has necessitated a few changes in her routine.
Remarking that she’s always been a “doer,” Wilkes said The Blind Center in Washington has given her a place to go and remain active.
Wilkes is the only client to spend time at the center on a daily basis, Monday through Friday. While she also weaves baskets and fashions chair seats, her primary “job” there is block printing the greeting cards sold in The Blind Center’s gift shop.
Dottie Walker, the center’s former director, created a series of printing blocks for every occasion — birthdays, sympathy, get well, thinking of you and all the major holidays, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Using those blocks, along with different colors of ink and folded paper stock, Wilkes devotes part of each day to keeping the inventory well-stocked. A work station has been set up for her at the center, complete with drying racks.
Wilkes said she’s been a client of the center for about six years and proudly claims she seldom misses a work day. She’s usually at the center from 9 a.m. to around 2:30 p.m., enjoying lunch there with the other clients and staff.
Despite problems with her eyesight, Wilkes said she does watch television from time to time. She’s especially partial to news programs.
Reading books and newspapers, however, is a bit more difficult.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Wilkes attended what was then West Chester Teacher’s College, now West Chester University. One of her grandsons just graduated from the school, she said with pride.
Wilkes and her husband George had four children, and today her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are scattered from Pennsylvania to Louisiana.
The Wilkes family relocated to North Carolina in the 1960s.
They owned the inn until 1972, but after its sale they continued to live on the island. She worked, was active in the Ocracoke United Methodist Church and dabbled in community theater, appearing as the Mother Superior in a production of “The Sound of Music.”
They moved to Georgia in 1990, but Emilie Wilkes maintains ties with the island; her grandson Tyke, his wife and their two young children live there and husband George is buried in the community cemetery.
For more information about The Blind Center, visit its website: www.theblindcenter.org.