BOISE – It isn’t Edgar Call’s age that makes him unique, though it’s certainly unusual.
No, family members say, there’s a lot more to Call than being one of the country’s oldest living men with Down syndrome.
“When you’re looking at Edgar, you’re looking at an angel,” his “sister” Annika Rau said. “And the same could be said for my parents for what they’ve done for him.”
Her parents, Van and Veanne Elg, took Call in on the advice of Van Elg’s mother, who was working at a group home where Call was living.
“She thought he’d be good for us,” Veanne Elg said. “We weren’t sure at the time. He was a complete stranger. But we met him and fell in love with him.”
Call has been living with the Elgs for 17 years now. In August, he’ll be 71.
“The Guinness Book of Records people have told us that to their knowledge, he’s the oldest living male with Down syndrome,” Van Elg said. “There’s a woman who’s older.”
Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosome. People with Down syndrome have delayed mental and social development – Call’s mental age is 2 to 3 – and suffer from physical problems. Heart defects, leukemia and other factors can lead to early death.
At 70, Call has beaten the odds, living a long life that began in the eastern Idaho farming community of Bancroft.
He lived with his parents and siblings there until he was 11, then was moved to the Idaho State School and Hospital in Nampa.
“His parents were quite elderly,” Veanne Elg said. “They did the best they could for him, but it just became too difficult for them to care for him.”
“Home” was a succession of group homes until the Elgs stepped in. A neighbor, Tiffany Larson, says she’s “continually touched that they care for Edgar, who was a complete stranger to them, with such genuine love.”
“Without them, he would have aged quietly in the group home where he lived and would have died alone. Perhaps he’d have gone years ago had he not been loved by this family.”
Theirs was the first family home he’d known in more than 40 years. Their decision to share it with him changed the lives of everyone who lived there.
“When people ask us who he is, we say he’s our brother,” said Rau, 25. “He is our brother.”
Rau is the oldest of the Elgs’ three daughters, all of whom grew up with Call. They can’t imagine life without him.
His sense of humor brightens their lives. Though his speech is limited, he likes to sing, dance and play practical jokes.
“When it’s time for him to go to bed, he’ll go around and turn off all the lights,” Veanne Elg said. “Even if we have company.”
He loves dogs, children and cowboys.
“If someone’s down, he can sense it,” Rau said. “He’ll ask you if you’re sad and dance to make you laugh.”
Call attends a developmental school in Meridian. Veanne Elg is there to meet him when the bus stops at their West Boise home.
“He’ll hand me a drawing and say, ‘Here, Mommy.’ And he always thanks us for every little thing. He has such a sweet spirit.
“He’s changed us. He didn’t need to change.”
Having Call has “taught our kids to be more patient and tolerant of other people,” Van Elg added. “They’ve never been nervous or uncomfortable around disabled people.”
The family has seen a difference in Call’s health in the last year. He’s become hard of hearing, lost the sight in one eye and has problems with his back and feet.
“It’s sad because he’s always been so strong and fast,” Van Elg said. “He loved to play kickball and was a good bowler. Now he’s slowing down. He doesn’t even talk as much as he used to.”
That led to a family discussion of whether it would be necessary to move Call to a care center as his health deteriorated.
“When he became incontinent and harder to take places, we wondered if we’d reached the point where we could still take care of him,” Van Elg said. “Savannah (their 15-year-old daughter) said, ‘No. Don’t you even think about moving him somewhere. He belongs with us.’
“It was never really an option to let him go,” he added. “We’ve gained so much more than we’ve given.”
“He’s taught us unconditional love,” Rau said.
“Yes, he has,” her mother agreed. “That and that things don’t always have to be perfect to be wonderful.”