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She is thankful for 2nd chance

Published Oct. 2, 2005

(ran SP NP editions)

Outside, it's the sun that shines brightly on the Sunshine Center in St. Petersburg, a buff brick building surrounded by palms, oaks and flower beds that is home for many seniors.

Inside, it's Jane Fischer's smile that shines brightly to welcome visitors to the center's gift shop. She helps them look through the items made by seniors to select gifts to send back North or to give to friends.

Fischer was born in Dappberry, N.Y. Fischer's father worked for Mount Vernon Telephone Co. and traveled the turnpike. When she was 3, her family moved to the Bronx, where she grew up with her two brothers and one sister. She was a tomboy who loved to climb trees. It concerned her mother, who often yelled: "Jane, get down out of that tree!"

"I would climb the biggest tree as high as I could go and survey the traffic and then tell Dad when there was a break in traffic so he could get out on the road." She grins mischievously as she recalls those happy days.

After finishing high school in New York City, she went to millinery school and learned to make hats. In those days, wearing hats was a must for the stylish. Many people wanted to see what a hat looked like when worn before buying it, so Fischer served as the model.

Later, she went to secretarial school to learn office-management skills. She worked first for a group of private detectives and later in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a typist.

She was married in 1943 to an Army sergeant who worked in the accounting department. They had two sons.

In 1955, when the kids were in school, Fischer went to work, first in a chiropractor's office and then in a bank as a teller.

In 1968, the family moved to Florida, where she continued to use her various skills. After her husband died in 1990, Fischer's daughter-in-law encouraged her to volunteer to occupy her mind and keep busy. She found the Sunshine Center in 1992 and became a very active volunteer, working 5{ days a week in the snack bar and gift shop.

It was during a routine physical examination that X-rays showed that Fischer had an aneurysm in the abdominal aorta. For 72 hours after surgery, she lay between life and death. Her son sat by her side, urging her not to give up. As she regained consciousness, Fischer felt that she had an experience of being on the edge and that she was being given another chance to give more time to helping others.

"I feel as if I were sent back for a special purpose," she said.

Fischer had always helped others, but now she was adamant about doing more. She helps her neighbors get to doctors' appointments, picks up their medicines and groceries and goes out to dinner occasionally. She continues to work at the Sunshine Center Gift Shop on Tuesdays and every other Sunday afternoon. Her other interests involve the Eastern Star Order of the Masons, of which she has been a member and leader since 1938, when she joined as a teenager.

More and more, as I interview our RSVP volunteers, I find that many are or have been motivated by some extraordinary experience. I sincerely hope that more people will be led to help others.

_ Betty Hayward is the director of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in Pinellas County. You can write to her c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

To volunteer:

Retired and Senior Volunteer Program: 327-8690

Volunteer Action Center: 893-1140