On Mesa Avenue near Riverview Elementary School, the lady who waves, Romelle Maloney, 92, and the ceramic rabbits playing in her yard, have slowly garnered a fan base.
Her creative decorations and daily greetings began as a fun hobby, but they have forged a new sense of community for the Riverview neighborhood in northeast Durango. Students know her, and teachers said kids are more excited to go to school thanks to her greetings. People from another Durango neighborhood took notice, even loaning new props for her yard. For Maloney, her hobby provides a simple joy and a new way to connect.
“The children are such fun,” Maloney said. “I just started waving to them, and we got to know each other. It’s grown from that.”
People are even starting to wonder what the rabbits will do next, Maloney said.
“I want more snow,” she said. So she plans to add a larger sleigh and even bring out Olaf, the snowman from “Frozen.”
The scenes began when Maloney arranged about 20 ceramic rabbits in her front yard. The rabbits wore scarves, played football, rode sleighs and swam in a plastic swimming pool. She made signs, reading “Enjoy vacation, we’ll miss you!” or “Wishing we could go to school too.”
She put up a blackboard where neighbors could write what they were thankful for, drawing responses from the younger crowd like, “frinds,” “relly good neighbors” or “cat dog,” with a backwards “g.”
And every morning, Maloney stands in her kitchen window and waves to the students, who wave or blow kisses in return. If she’s outside after school, many will pause to say hello.
“I love the communication,” Maloney said. “I just love the friendship of the little kids. They’re so sweet.”
Filling a voidThe rabbits have become more than just a fun yard setup – they’ve forged new connections.
After a friend of Maloney’s died, some neighborhood children recognized she was sad. The kids told their mother, who checked on Maloney. The next day they sent her cards.
The kids’ intuition and the mother’s actions – Maloney said they were a miracle.
“God worked through them to comfort me,” she said. “That’s what he did.”
Then, a Riverview teacher, Katie Ames, showed up at Maloney’s house with a thank you card and gifts from students, taking Maloney by surprise.
During a lesson about noticing the good things in life, Ames asked her third grade students if they noticed the woman who waves from her kitchen window.
“They were all like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that lady!” Ames said. “I just wanted her to know that the kids that she’s doing it for notice it, and it matters to them.”
Rabbits, however, aren’t her whole life. Originally from Minnesota, the Maloneys have lived in Durango since the 1970s. She has 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
She was an avid skier, and she skated on ice until she was 80. When she’s not caring for her family or going to church, she cares for her flower garden.
Maloney said communicating with the students has become her purpose in life. Still, similar to 48% of seniors who report feeling lonely, Maloney said she feels a void after giving up hobbies or the deaths of friends.
“I think I’m doing it because I’ve been losing so many friends because of my age, and I just needed something,” Maloney said. “I feel like it keeps me young, and it keeps me interested in the kids. I can watch them grow up.”
Ames said Maloney’s presence in the neighborhood makes a difference for both students and adults.
“As a student teacher last year, I was really nervous to come to a school that I had never been to,” Ames said. “Romelle has a way of making you feel welcome when you’re not even to the school yet.”