It is safe to say, Barbie Enkelis, 71, has never forgotten a birthday.
“Your birthday is May 14. Her birthday is December 16 and hers is January 9. Kathy’s is April 15. And Kimberly’s birthday is in June, the 24th,” she says, rapid-fire while visiting the executive offices of Cedar Sinai Park.*
For more than 28 years, Barbie has commemorated the birthdays of employees as the nonprofit’s Simcha Coordinator. She also remembers the room numbers in which people have lived, stayed, or worked. And she memorizes license plates, so when a car is parked illegally, Barbie is the one to find.
“I like numbers. I don’t know how I remember. My mom used to say she wishes I would remember other things like to go home on time,” said Barbie, with a laugh.
“Barbie is an institution,” said Community Life Director Jennifer Felberg. “She practically lives here. We love Barbie and we have to share her with her own family, so we tell her to go home.”
Given that Barbie’s home has been Robison since she was an infant, “it’s going to be very hard to walk away,” said Barbie. “I know it will be a tear jerker.”
Cedar Sinai Park is definitely a family affair for Barbie. Her mom and dad, Velma Zelda (Cissi) and Milt Carl, used to bring her to the Robison Home to visit her grandparents, Gussie and Nate Carl. Home lore has it that residents would rock little Barbie when she visited.
“She was a good girl,” said Harold Schnitzer Center for Living resident Joeen Rodinsky, whose family was friends with Barbie’s family. “Her family were lovely people.”
As Barbie grew up, her dad joined the Robison Home board (president in 1982 and 1983), with friends Henry Blauer and Leonard Barde, and Milt was instrumental in the fundraising for the construction of Rose Schnitzer Manor for independent and assisted living. Barbie’s sister, Pam, and her brother-in-law Stan Rotenberg were also deeply involved. Stan was president in 1987 and 1988.
“And then my dad talked me into working here,” said Barbie, whose first day was in 1993.
As an employee, Barbie regularly walks the hallways named for her father and his friends. “Everywhere I go, I see my dad,” she said.
Some of the residents now living at Cedar Sinai Park are either related to Barbie or knew her family members. “A few are like my parents—they still tell me what to do,” she said, laughing again.
Indeed, Barbie just wheeled one relative to an activity at Harold Schnitzer Center for Living, and another resident who she often escorts to the Goodman Living Room for recreation was Barbie’s southeast Portland neighbor growing up and attended high school with her.
“We have a joke going where he asks me what’s for dinner and I say that I’m cooking,” said Barbie. “Our family was never in our kitchen because we didn’t eat at home, so we both laugh at that one.
“Today would have been his dad’s birthday, too.”
Cissi stayed in the Home after surgery in 2010. Husband Mike’s aunt and uncle, Lois and Marvin Enkelis, were briefly at the Home in 2006 and 2009, respectively, and Mike’s grandmother, Rose Shnitka, was in memory care in the early 1980s. Son, Gary, volunteered at Robison and Rose Schnitzer Manor. Milt’s sister, Eva Walleston, lived at Rose Schnitzer in 2012. Stan’s mother, Vivian, lived in memory care in the late 1990s, and his father, Lou, was at Rose Schnitzer Manor in early 2000. And current chief executive officer Kimberly Fuson is Barbie’s cousin.
“Barbie, is there anyone you don’t know in the Jewish community?” she’s asked.
“No, there isn’t,” Joeen answers for Barbie. “And if she doesn’t know them, she knows someone who knows them. She remembers everyone.”
Over the years, Barbie has worked in Life Enrichment (previously activities) and as a receptionist. But her favorite activity remains Bingo, a game she never played as a child, never played at home with Mike or Gary, and only picked up in her forties as a Cedar Sinai Park employee.
“I love Bingo,” said Barbie, who often sports a Bingo mask and had the B-I-N-G-O song as a cell phone ringtone. “I’m going to miss it, especially when I know a Bingo Day is coming.”
Longtime volunteer Charles Jagger has known Barbie for more than 20 years. “I would think that we will have Barbie go on outings, and she will probably be volunteering when the residents visit restaurants. I have a feeling she will be back occasionally.”
Barbie asks about going to Washington Square. “There isn’t enough time for us to have you go out to Washington Square!” said Charles.
“They said they would only take me one way,” said Barbie, with another chuckle. “I like to shop and they won’t let me go with them because I’ll be there all day.”
Barbie’s plan is to retire August 25. “That’s the anniversary of my dad’s death,” she said.
During Covid, Barbie worked from home, but would walk to the Home to peek in the windows to see what was happening because she was “going crazy” not being here.
“Every community needs someone like Barbie,” said Kimberly. “She is our heart and soul.”
In her new free time, Barbie says Mike wants to travel, perhaps a cruise. She intends to go shopping more. But she’ll be close by, for whatever happens. She wants to volunteer as a Bingo caller.
“I have three homes on this street,” said Barbie. “My home is number one, the Harold Schnitzer Center for Living/Robison Jewish Health Center is number two. And Rose Schnitzer Manor is number three.
“It’s time to go to home number one now.”
*Birth dates have been changed for privacy. But trust us, Barbie knew all of the exact dates by heart.