How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?
I was born in New York City. My husband, John, and I moved to the Bronx when we married. He served four years in the Army and then worked for the J.C. Penney Co. We moved to Spring Hill in 1987 after we retired.
Who are the members of your family?
I lost John in 1998. We were married for 56 years and we had three wonderful children, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Our oldest is Lorraine Casey, who lives in Delaware with her husband, Robert. They have two children — Christopher Casey (wife Judy and daughter Catie) and Maureen Casey, who live in Pennsylvania.
Next came Gloria Grieco, who lives here in Spring Hill. The "baby" is Patricia "Ticia" Carter, who lives in Texas. Her three children — Christine Felton, Jonathan Carter and Jason Carter — live in California.
I also have a dog named Lucie, who now lives with Gloria. When she visits, she brings the dog to visit with me and the residents here. Everyone loves her — she's our unofficial mascot.
Tell us about your career.
I was a stay-at-home mother until the children were in school full time and no longer needed me home each afternoon. Then I went into the educational field and worked as a paraprofessional in public schools in the Bronx. When the schools went on strike, I looked for work, finding a job at a private school as a playground supervisor. The name of the school was the United Nations International School in Manhattan. It was kindergarten through high school. It wasn't long hours, but I so enjoyed getting to know the children. I eventually became the main secretary and receptionist, and spent 20 years working at the school.
When we moved to Florida, I said to John, "Okay, I've hung up the curtains, and the furniture is in place — now what?"
That's when I started to volunteer and join clubs.
First I volunteered with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, then volunteered at local schools for 10 years. I also volunteered later for AARP and joined the Spring Hill Garden Club, the New York State Club and the AT&T Telephone Pioneers. I was very active in the clubs, even serving as an officer several years.
After John passed away and then I got ill, my daughter Gloria moved in with me to help out. When it became too much for her to do alone, I moved to Spring Oaks, an assisted living and memory care facility, west of Brooksville. I came right here straight from the hospital and have been here four years now.
When I first moved to Spring Oaks, I thought my life was just about over. I had no idea how much being here would change my life. I have really thrived here and have so many friends. I love to welcome new residents and be an inspiration.
When I come down to the common area each morning, I tell a joke. I'm known as the joke lady. I like to stay cheery and upbeat, and let the residents here know that they are not alone. We're all here to help one another.
What kinds of activities are you involved in now?
Currently I am president of the resident council, and president (queen mum) of the new Red Hat Society chapter we formed here.
The Red Hat chapter is made up of residents and some staff members. We have about 13 or 14 members so far. We like to have parties here and sit around and talk. We wear purple outfits and red hats. We have so much fun.
My advice to those I meet is always smile — people remember the smile. Be cheery and don't retreat to your room; come out and enjoy life. This is not the end, just another chapter.
Do you have any special hobbies?
I collect cards and photos of the Madonna, Virgin Mary, and I have a rather large collection. At one time I thought about Guinness World Records, but there's too much paperwork involved to get that recorded. I was asked to will my collection to a museum, so that's what I've decided to do.
I also collect recipes and share them with Moss Bailie, the dining room manager here at Spring Oaks and at Forest Oaks. We call him "Mr. Moss." I also love to do crafts, especially around the holidays. And I love to make things out of seashells and often teach other residents to make things. We also play lots of games here and have so much fun.
Being a former member of the Spring Hill Garden Club, I still really love to garden. When residents receive plants that grow too large for the pot, I help plant them in our wonderful garden here.
My passion is reading. I get the newspaper, magazines and love a new book. My motto is: Never stop enriching your mind.
What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?
When I can, I like to get out and go shopping with Gloria, and visit friends.
What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?
We need less stores so folks won't spend money they don't have. We need a good bookstore and more volunteers and better pay for teachers to improve our schools.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
I'll share three things:
When we first moved to Florida, John and I invited a Japanese exchange student named Shiho to live with us for a year. She attended Springstead High School and was a wonderful artist. She even drew me a picture of a Madonna for my collection.
I never learned to drive or had a driver's license. Not long ago, I started using a motorized wheelchair, which I had some difficulties with at first. I had so many crashes and bumps and bruises while I learned to use it that I was known as "Mrs. Crash" because of all my run-ins.
And a few months ago I received a call from the United Nations school, where I worked. They were planning a big party for one of the teachers who was turning 100 and wanted me to come. I told them I lived in Florida and for health reasons I wasn't able to travel, but I was very flattered they remembered me. I sent a nice letter that I hear they read to the guest of honor during the party.
Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1438.