“I didn’t consider it a job, it was such a joy being in the company of wonderful people every day,” Louise Smith, 89, said, talking about retiring as coordinator of Meals on Wheels in Pittston. This week she was back at her old desk, filling in for her replacement, Lois McHugh, who is vacationing in Virginia.
Smith’s joy at being in the company of the volunteers and staff at Meals on Wheels for 23 years is mutual. That was evident as they stopped at her desk to say “hello sweetheart,”and “it’s so great to see you again,” and “we missed seeing that face,” prompting Smith to ask, “See what I mean?”
And it was evident at her retirement party last month.
“At my party I couldn’t believe the turnout,” she said. “I was so thrilled. People expressed appreciation for me. It was wonderful.”
Smith was born and raised in West Pittston and lived there most of her life, except for six years when she lived in Pittsburgh. She and her husband, Jack Smith, a prominent West Pittstonian whose father had been chief of police, lived on Delaware Avenue, where she had an antique shop, The Clover House. Her husband had an automotive business in Dallas. After he died 24 years ago, Louise, who was a bookkeeper for Pittston Apparel before she married, took the job at Meals on Wheels.
“My dear friend, Greta Whyte, was the president of the board. The lady before me was retiring at 85 and they needed somebody to fill her place. Greta said I was feeling sorry for myself and needed to get out. I assumed it was voluntary.”
Turns out it was a paying job, but Louise would have done it if it weren’t. She likes volunteering. She was on the board of the West Pittston Library for 60 years.
Smith moved to Forty Fort to live with her daughter, Jill Ann Space, and her son-in-law. It’s a recent move and she’s still breaking down her home on Delaware Avenue and is sentimental about it.
“It’s a hard thing to do,” she said.
She and her husband had three children, Jill Ann and two sons, Jamey, Florida, and Jack, Ohio. All three were at her retirement party. Smith has eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, with one on the way.
Despite two knee replacement, bypass surgery and macular degeneration which has made her nearly blind in her left eye, she is upbeat and cheerful.
Volunteer Rosanne Ragnacci said, “Louise is dedicated to the mission of Meals and Wheels. She’s very pleasant.”
McHugh, who is trying to replace Louise, said in an email, “Louise Smith is a truly gracious lady. Every day she greeted the volunteers with a cheerful smile. She will be very hard to replace.”
Smith said she missed the busy mornings at Meals on Wheels and will miss them again when her replacement duty is over.
“It’s great. On the phone. People in and out. I met some marvelous people,” Smith said. “I loved dealing with 57 volunteers in a week. It’s so gratifying to see people give their time. We don’t pay for anything, gas or anything. It marvelous how they give of themselves. Everybody is so reliable. They are so dedicated and don’t ask for anything in return. Of course there are problems, but we always manage to stay ahead of game, thanks to the secretary and treasurer and board and volunteers.”
She said she often thinks about the customers who pay $25 per week to receive two fresh cooked meals, five days a week. “Sometimes the Meals on Wheels volunteers are the only people they ever see,” she said.