One elderly woman gained twice as much as she lost.

Thelma Gulden is not your typical 99-year-old. This is the opening phrase written on a GoFundMe page dedicated to raising money for an almost 100-year-old widow who recently found herself without a home. 

Thelma, who rode an elephant when she was 98 and rode in a helicopter when she turned 99, is an inspirational and adventurous woman.

Hers is a story of someone who was ambitious before her time, and who served her country and continued to love it even after its government failed to be there for her in her time of need.

How One Elderly Veteran Lost Her Home

demolished home
Photo by David Peinado

In 1943, Thelma was sworn in as a Cadet Nurse in order to serve her country during World War II. At the time, women were not allowed to serve as soldiers in the army, so they put on uniforms and served as nurses or typists in order to do their part. 

In every sense of the word, Thelma fought for her country. Along with 120,000 other patriotic women, she worked tirelessly day after day to tend to the wounded and nurse them back to health. Then, when the war was over, she was dismissed. Along with her colleagues, Thelma was never acknowledged as a veteran, and thus was never entitled to any veteran’s benefits. 

So, when she found herself homeless after a natural disaster, Thelma was empty-handed. 

The Tough Times a 99-Year-Old Woman Had Gone Through

Thelma had never had children of her own but was lucky to have a wonderful and fulfilling relationship with her nieces and nephews. Despite being well-surrounded, she found herself facing one hard situation after another.

In 2020, her husband of 62 years passed away, and then she got COVID-19 twice and had to be hospitalized for over a week. Doctors were not confident that someone her age could pull through, but she did. 

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Then, Hurricane Ian arrived and destroyed her beloved home in the Oakwood Manor mobile home park. The 55+ community kept Thelma’s spirit young and helped her feel a sense of community that inspired her. She would frequently ride her golf cart around the community, greeting her friends or challenging them to a game of mahjong. 

Before her health began to decline, Thelma stayed active in her civic duties, volunteering during elections and at food banks. 

Everyone who met her agreed: Thelma was an amazing woman who deserved the world. 

How an Elderly Woman’s Community Went Above and Beyond for Her

Hurricane Ian destroyed her home, and Thelma was left with nothing but $700 from FEMA. Demoralized, she looked to her family for help. Her great-niece Traci Reuter posted on social media, sharing a GoFundMe page she has created and asking people for help to rebuild Thelma’s home.

Luckily, social media can help stories spread like wildfire, and can often boost the visibility of truly inspiring crowdfunding causes. A popular TikToker named Charlie Rocket (@charlie) came across the story and decided to give Thelma a wonderful gift.

He was inspired by her adventurous spirit and thought she would like some fun after all of the hard times she had been through recently. He gave her a gift card for a hot air balloon ride, and then $10,000 towards repairing her home. Afterwards, he shared Thelma’s story, helping it go viral. Traci’s GoFundMe raised over $30,000! 

While the money raised is not enough to build Thelma a new home, it is a great start. This 99-year-old woman, who spent her entire life serving others and showing constant kindness, is finally getting some of that kindness back!