(ran SP, NP editions)
When Rose Brecka was 60, she read in the Berkley Newsletter that people live longer if they have long-term goals and they like what they are doing. Some bonsai trees live to be 150 years old, so Mrs. Brecka decided to become a bonsai hobbyist.
Her plan must be paying off. At 78, Mrs. Brecka is still lively and very much involved in her community.
Nine years ago, she and husband, Tony, moved from Baltimore to St. Petersburg. Within three months, she was volunteering at North Shore Elementary School. She has been there ever since. In the 1994-95 school year, of 22,000 volunteers in Pinellas County, she was one of nine chosen as outstanding.
Let me share some of Mrs. Brecka's experiences at North Shore. She said, "I remember one student . . . who was only poor in math. On a one-to-one basis, I discovered that he had a need to learn the multiples. With the principal's permission, I called his parents to help in a plan to write five multiple facts on index cards and to place these around the house _ where he brushed his teeth, flipped light switches, on exiting the house, at his seat at the table and on his night stand. When we worked together, the facts he knew went on an "I know' pile, and facts from the "I need to learn' pile were taken home. This resulted in an eventual "A' in math. Everyone was proud of him. I knew he could do it!
"Another time, a student who hadn't enjoyed reading was assigned a story of a rural family in India. Gathering visuals from the library, and with the use of a globe, we proceeded to read the story. After three days, he said, "Mrs. Brecka, I thought I was there.' Three weeks later, his mother said he was enjoying reading books from the library. I knew he would!
"Children have always been a part of the adventure of life," Mrs. Brecka said. She and her husband had four children, and at various times, nine foster children. For nine years, the Brecka family included eight children. "It was a happy home. Today we have appropriate-size table, chairs and china to accommodate children for "tea' (juice, milk or water)."
When she was 42, Mrs. Brecka enrolled in college. After going to night classes, her husband begged her to switch to day classes. As it happened, her two oldest sons were also attending that school. They agreed not to recognize each other in the halls. One son said she was famous at school because she was one of two "old ladies" who were students. She graduated with a bachelor's in elementary education and taught for 18 years.
Other activities and organizations that keep her busy include the League of Women Voters, of which she has been a member for 13 years.
"This affords me the opportunity to become more informed about the environment, the local (issues) and state Legislature, and gives me a feeling of closeness to the community. Going to the lectures at the Ethics Center at USF awakens in me a feeling of growth in my own development. My latest endeavor is to join the American Association of University Women to assist young ladies who come to the YWCA to learn about conflict resolution."
Mrs. Brecka ended the interview with these words: "Thank you, St. Petersburg, for allowing me to be more me!"
_ 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.
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program: 327-8690
Volunteer Action Center: 893-1140