Wilma Setzer — One clogger's journey through the rough times

Friends, family to hold benefit May 31
By Rachel Robles, Lifestyles editor | May 27, 2014
Photo by: Donated WILMA SETZER — Pictured is Wilma Setzer in 1975. Setzers friends and family are holding a benefit to raise money for medical expenses from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the VFW.

Wilma Setzer has laughed and danced her way into the hearts of people too numerous to count. This former Southern Appalachian Clogger has fallen on some hard times, and those whose lives she’s touched are doing something to give back.

Setzer was born Dec. 17, 1938, in Robbinsville. She came to Haywood County when she was 24, married Wade Parris and had a daughter, Patty.

She worked a plethora of jobs — at Dayco, a nursing home and a Rose’s in Waynesville, to name a few. It was during this time that she danced for the Foggy Mountain Cloggers and the Southern Appalachian Cloggers for a number of years. She eventually started working at Dollar General in Waynesville and continued there for 16 years until she had to retire due to issues with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She was able to manage her illness, but she could no longer work.

In 2012, Setzer was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was caught very early and doctors were able to remove the lump; but, unfortunately, a follow-up mammogram revealed that they didn’t get it all. About a month later, she underwent a mastectomy.

It was after the second surgery that her daughter, Patty Ownby, noticed that something was wrong.

“It was within a couple of days the surgery,” said Ownby. “She would see things and people that weren’t there. Her memory was just so scattered. The main thing I noticed was that the later in the day it got, the worse it was. Nighttimes are the worst for her.”

The surgery was successful and Setzer was scheduled to be released, but her symptoms got worse.

“At night her hands and lips would move, but nothing came out,” said Ownby. “She would look around the room but she was actually asleep.”

The doctors believed that doing the two surgeries — a lumpectomy and a mastectomy — so close together put too much stress on Setzer’s mind and body and triggered the hallucinations and affected memory. She was diagnosed with dementia.

After eight days and various medications, Ownby took her mother home.

“When I brought her home, it just got worse and worse,” said Ownby.

Her doctors arranged for her to go to ParkRidge Hospital in Hendersonville where she evaluated and admitted for 30 days. The doctors were able to find the right combination of medications to manage the dementia and hallucinations.

“I was amazed at how they were able to help her,” said Ownby. “She gained some lucidity back.”

She began physical therapy to regain her strength, but an X-ray of her lungs during a trip to the emergency room in 2013 revealed the early stages of lung cancer. Doctors recommended radiation therapy for five days a week for 10 weeks and chemotherapy one day a week. She made it through three weeks of treatment before her strength gave out and she stopped eating. She was moved to Maggie Valley Nursing and Rehab Jan. 21, 2014, to regain strength to continue treatment.

Brenda Silvers, an administrator at Maggie Valley Nursing and Rehab and treasurer for the Southern Appalachian Cloggers, is an old family friend; in fact, she calls Setzer her second mother. Her and Ownby’s mother were best friends.

“I’ve known Wilma since I was 6,” said Silvers. “My fondest memory was jumping in her red Malibu and going to Jim’s Drive-in and getting a chiliburger and fries, and then going up to the Playhouse and clogging every Saturday night.”

“Wilma has always been happy, always laughing and joking,” she added. “She’s the life of the party. Everybody loves Wilma.”

Callan Pleasant, a former neighbor, agrees.

“Wilma was an awesome neighbor,” said Pleasant. “We’d come home from working all day and she’d have our lawn mowed. She was always going that extra mile for people and not expect anything in return.”

And according to Silvers, being sick hasn’t changed her that much.

“She’s Wilma,” said Silvers. “She laughs, she jokes. If someone brings her two pies, she’ll send one to my office. Being sick hasn’t affected her personality that much. She’s still Wilma. She laughs and jokes and cuts up and even when she’s sick to her stomach.”

And she’s absolutely modest.

“She didn’t want people to know how sick she was,” said Ownby. “She didn’t want people to feel sorry for her.”

Leslie Kaylor, another lifelong friend, is more than happy to help out.

“There comes a time in everybody’s life when they need some help, and it’s just her time,” said Kaylor.

Setzer’s friends and family will be holding a benefit to raise money for medical expenses from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the VFW Post 5202, located at 216 Miller St., Waynesville. There will be live music and the Southern Appalachian Cloggers will dance intermittently during those hours. There will also be hog dog plates for $5, a bake sale and an auction and/or raffle of donated items. Additionally, the members of the Southern Appalachian Cloggers are baking cakes. All are invited to enjoy an afternoon of fellowship, dancing, music and food, and to share a memory of Setzer.

“I would like to thank everyone who works at Maggie Valley Nursing and Rehab for the excellent care they have given to mother,” said Ownby. “They are truly a blessing to not only us but countless others.”