At the beginning of December, after much contemplation during what has been a very stressful year for all of us, I made the bittersweet decision to retire from my position as a site manager for Meals on Wheels of Southwest Michigan (MoW) serving our Harbor Country home-bound seniors out of an office in the River Valley Senior Center (RVSC).
In mid-October my body odometer hit seven decades, so the timing seemed right.
Despite all the trials and tribulations of 2020, there are always plenty of things to be grateful for.
I have been blessed to have caring colleagues at MoWs as well as the RVSC who quickly became friends and a second family to me. I came to think of them as “Earth Angels” who were always willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to put a little more shine to the “golden years” of area seniors who have lived good long lives and have greatly contributed to our communities.
There is the affable and reliable Charles Williams who delivered the meals from Benton Harbor to the RVSC faithfully bright and early each morning. On days when I found it hard to get out of bed I would remember that Charles would be on his way, so I’d get my butt in gear and get going.
My group of volunteer drivers who distributed the meals to our Harbor Country clients with smiles and kind words were absolutely amazing. In this time of COVID their call to serve others never diminished, but became even stronger. To me they are heroes. Being the type of people they are they shrug off that moniker, but it’s true.
The program continues to evolve, and beginning this January there are plans for the drivers to deliver boxes of fresh produce to the annual clients on a biweekly basis.
And I’m so grateful my position gave me the opportunity to meet and get to know so many other good people.
For instance, Mary Madejczyk, who helped me serve congregate meals also volunteered to help out at the RVSC at special events, such as the ever-popular Bingo games. Mary celebrated her 104th birthday in December, and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to her on the phone a couple times each week, and that will continue.
I’m happy to report that she has been safely negotiating her second pandemic, having survived the Spanish Flu in 1918 when she was a two-year-old. Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
The many highlights of my experience included the recent extremely successful Fudge-Raiser event headed by the energetic, enthusiastic community contributor Jackie Shen of Jackie’s Café in New Buffalo.
The 2020 event benefitted our MoW program, and every cent generated by the purchase of a pound of the best fudge on the planet for $14 was matched by three other generous folks and an endowment, meaning that each purchase generated a $56 donation. That will translate into enough funds to support 11 Harbor Country clients for a year of meals.
One of my favorite quotes is: “I’ve never met an unhappy giver.” That has always resonated with me, and it fits Jackie like a glove. Or a chef’s hat!
In 2021 MoW executive director Linda K. Strohl promised that I will receive invitations to a summer picnic as well as the annual Christmas Party. Hopefully by then there will once again be “social closeness” rather than “social distancing” so I can give out plenty of hugs and handshakes.
I also plan to stay in touch with the RVSC and want to keep involved with the distribution of the monthly and quarterly commodities, as well as the putting together of the monthly newsletter. And who knows, maybe I’ll take the opportunity to play some Bingo when that activity is greenlighted to resume.
I have told both organizations that I am only a phone call away if deemed needed.
As I contemplated retirement I thought of my late father, Dr. Marshall H. Gooch, who passed away when I was a teenager after long battles with a variety of serious illnesses. He was also a giver, but he never had the opportunity to retire. In his memory I will do my best to do good things for others for during the remaining years I am gifted with.
I have also been thinking of my late uncle and mentor, Ed “Rabbit” Skoronski, who, after captaining the Purdue Boilermakers squad, went on to play in the NFL for three teams: Pittsburgh, New York and Cleveland. Through him I was able to gain membership in the NFL Alumni Association.
They have chapters in each NFL city, and that connection with former players doing good things for their communities has been inspiring. Their mission is to serve and mentor young people and set them on the right paths of life, much as my “Uncle Rab” did on the South Side of Chicago. That can have positive ripple effects for generations to come, and I want to be a part of that in any ways I am able.
I also will do my best to resist the siren call of my couch. I know I need to keep active by participating in the great programs offered by local organizations such as Chikaming Open Lands and the Harbor Country Hikers. They both offer perfect pairings of recreation and education in the great outdoors.
I also really enjoy the outdoor exercise equipment pad at New Buffalo Township Park. I tell friends my health club is located in a most beautiful location. After exercising my cool down routine is to walk the nature trails there, and my final stop is always the nearby moving 9/11 Memorial there.
My MoW site manager position seemed more a calling than a job. When called upon to do something above and beyond what was normally expected, I did my best to respond positively. I came to view these experiences as opportunities rather than impositions, and that made all the difference.
Attitude is altitude. Uplifting.
I plan to persist with my journalism career in one capacity or another. It’s hard to get that ink out of my bloodstream. Or the blood out of my inkstream!
I always try to keep in mind that each day is a gift, especially at my advanced age. And I will try to do good things with those daily gifts.
I tell folks that I will be around. I’m not going anywhere. Where would I go when I’m already blessed to live in the most beautiful place on Earth inhabited by the greatest of friends and neighbors that one could ever hope for.
I have made it to one finish line, but there are many other paths to explore.
“God be with ye” is the derivation of the word “goodbye.”
With that in mind I wish you all a most sincere thank you, and a heartfelt goodbye.