One of the earliest lessons my wise parents taught me was, “Listen to your elders,” and I still find that paying dividends at the ripe old age of 69.
Fortunately, my job as the site manager for the Meals-on-Wheels program in Harbor Country that operates out of the River Valley Senior Center in Harbert offers me plenty of opportunities to do that.
Happily, two of the senior citizens I get to spend lots of time with are Mary Madejczyk and Joe Shermak who have an amazing combined age of 201. Both celebrated noteworthy birthdays this past autumn when Mary turned 103 and Joe reached 98.
Not showing any signs of slowing down or missing any opportunities to help others, Madejczyk has been a volunteer for the Meals-on-Meals congregate lunch program for decades, and I can count on her being there bright and early each Monday with a smile on her face to help serve a nutritious lunch for those willing and able to come in and eat.
I like to say she serves “soul food,” because what she does for her fellow seniors helps satisfy their spirits as well as their stomachs.
She also finds the time and energy to check other seniors in during the popular bimonthly Friday Bingo games at the RVSC where she always sits at the same table with Shermak.
As a history buff, I get a kick knowing that Mary’s 1916 birthdate means she entered the world during World War I, four years before women had the right to vote. Woodrow Wilson was in the White House when she was born, and she has seen 18 different presidents in her lifetime … so far.
Another notable American who was also born in December, 1916 is actor Kirk Douglas, and he’s also still going at 103. Madejczyk is his elder by a week.
She is the mother to three sons, and her “baby boy” is 66.
At this point I’m now pretty convinced that Mary will outlive me. Her special “elixir” is a daily regimen of a few sips of red wine and a few drops of honey on the tongue, with the wine being consumed for medicinal purposes only, of course!
Her personal mantra that I’ve taken to heart is: “If I stop, I’ll stop.” Short and sweet. She is a giver and not a taker, and she is forward looking and doesn’t spend too much time gazing in life’s rear view mirror.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a present. The older one gets the easier it is to appreciate and live that “one day at a time” saying.
Joe Shermak is a RVSC regular and favorite. One of the downsides of living a long life is that most of your loved ones preceded you in death, and over the years we have become part of Joe’s extended family, and I believe he feels the same about us.
I’d describe Joe as the “strong, silent type,” but when he does speak it’s usually words that are well worth hearing.
He is also a proud World War II veteran, and as he served us as part of the “Greatest Generation,” we now have the opportunity to return the favor and serve him.
It is estimated that 16 million Americans answered the call to duty during World War II, and currently there are less than 500,000 still living, and we are losing them on a daily basis at an amazing rate. Joe is living history, and a testament to all those who served their country back then and those who serve today.
A big part of my fondness for Mary and Joe is that they remind me of my late, great parents.
My father was also a WW II vet and Purple Heart recipient who spent the rest of his postwar life as a veterinarian who would often respond to calls in the middle of the night to render care to sick dogs and cats, or animals that had been involved in accidents.
My mother was a beloved school principal on the South Side of Chicago. Selected as “Educator of the Year” during her long career, the children under her care were not “her students,” but rather “her kids,” and God help any gangbanger or miscreant who tried to mess with them or steer them in the wrong direction. In South Chicago it was well known that you didn’t tangle with “The Gooch.”
Madejczyk and Shermak still help me keep out of mischief, and that was pretty much a full-time job for my parents, as I recall.
I try to be with Mary and Joe whenever the time comes for them to leave the RVSC. I usually tell them, “See you again soon,” and they’re usually quick to reply, “God willing.” Ah yes, perspective is a good thing.
My New Year’s wish for 2020 is that, God willing, I’m still around and they’re still around to celebrate their 99th and 104th birthdays next fall.
Until then, with gratitude, we’ll be taking life one blessed day at a time.