Irene was just two months old when she developed severe pneumonia. At the same time, her mother was in the hospital being treated for tuberculosis and couldn’t care for her growing family. With five other children to look after on his own, Irene’s father faced the agonizing decision of what to do with his youngest daughter. “No one had time for a very sick child,” Irene recalls. Keeping the family’s best interest in mind, he decided to place her in the care of two women – one of them a nurse – who became her beloved guardians and mentors.
Being raised by strong women, Irene learned to value her independence. With no family ties keeping her in the small town in Upstate New York where she grew up, she chose a path that was very unusual for young women in the 1950s. “I wasn’t the sorority girl type,” she explains. “I was always a lone wolf. That’s how I coped in life.” So at just 18 years old, Irene moved to New York City by herself.
Instead of marrying and raising a family, Irene enrolled in nursing school in the city. For more than forty years she dedicated her life to the profession. She worked in hospitals and took on private clients that led her to faraway places like Switzerland. Irene even treated celebrities like author John Steinbeck and several Yankees players. “My job showed me so much humanity and diversity. These patients were like stories to me.” Growing up apart from her six siblings, her job also gave her a much-needed sense of family.
My job showed me so much humanity and diversity. These patients were like stories to me.
When Irene wasn’t busy taking care of her patients, she immersed herself in nature – walking and hiking were her favorite hobbies. Whether it was through the New York Botanical Garden or the rural woodland trails of New Jersey, Irene was self-reliant and active despite battling hepatitis and other frequent illnesses throughout her life.
It is abundantly clear that Irene wants nothing more than to stay in her home of more than half a century. But at 85 years old – and at a frail 95 pounds – she depends on help from others.
“I hate this,” Irene says pointing to her walker. An inner ear issue causes her to be very unsteady on her feet. The lasting effects of pneumonia from her childhood and years of working in hospitals have only added to her frailty. Six years ago she had a hip replaced and has been receiving meals ever since. “It’s been a great help. They have really sustained me.”
But at 85 years old – and at a frail 95 pounds – she
depends on help from others.
Her regular meal deliverer is CJ, but Irene greatly enjoys seeing volunteers from church and community groups from across the country when they visit and bring her a meal. “Citymeals has been wonderful, and now I’m my last patient.”