More than a coordinator, Niedoliwka was a friend to seniors

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published July 9, 2013

 Leona Niedoliwka, center, sits with seniors Betty Ulrich, left, and Karen Hodges at Niedoliwka’s goodbye party June 28 at the recreation center in Roseville.

Leona Niedoliwka, center, sits with seniors Betty Ulrich, left, and Karen Hodges at Niedoliwka’s goodbye party June 28 at the recreation center in Roseville.

Photo by Sara Kandel

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ROSEVILLE — More than three-dozen local seniors gathered in the senior activities room at the Recreation Center in Roseville June 28 to bid farewell to a beloved activities coordinator on her last day on the job.

Leona Niedoliwka was an employee of Roseville for eight years before the city consolidated senior and recreation services with neighboring Eastpointe and her employment was transferred to the Recreational Authority. She worked for the authority for a about a year and a half before her position was eliminated, effective July 1, 2013.

The decision to eliminate her position was based on numbers; like municipalities and organizations around the region, the authority was struggling to do more with less and they needed more help in clerical support.

She handled the decision with grace.

“This is what’s happening everywhere: Everyone is having to make cuts to survive,” she said. “The authority had to cut my position to continue to offer the programs it does. I’m sad to go, but I understand.

“Social and recreational programs are vital to quality of life, especially for our large population of seniors, and I feel blessed that I have been able to help coordinate programs and services for the mature population in our city, and that the program had the opportunity to merge with another struggling community so both could continue programming.”

She masked watery eyes with a vibrant smile and laughed and joked with the seniors who had come to wish her well. She visited each table, exchanging memories and sentiments and occasionally acting as confidante, listening to worries, concerns and woes and offering optimistic support.

“When I needed a walker when I went to the hospital, Leona got me a walker so I wouldn’t have to pay for one,” said Roseville resident Cynthia Reedui. “She helped me a lot and that helped me get my full rehabilitation.”

“When I first came here about three years ago, I had a busted ankle and I was watching TV and all of the sudden the senior channel came on, channel 10, and I thought, ‘Oh gee, they got this exercise that looks alright,’ so I got my cane and I came down here and Leona just took me right under her wing, you know?” said Roseville resident Pat Manoviec.

“She was just like an angel. She introduced me to everybody and she just made me feel so good about coming that I’ve been coming here for three years now.”

Although their stories of how she’s affected their lives vary — one woman spoke about how Niedoliwka always made sure she had enough yarn to crochet; another spoke about how good it made her feel that Niedoliwka always remembered her name; another about the time she caught fish for Niedoliwka’s pet lizard — they all shared a common theme: friendship.

“Leona has always been a friend to everybody,” said Virginia Ciaramitaro. “She has always taken care of us, always been patient and listened to us. She’s our friend and she is very caring.”

They described Niedoliwka as the type of friend that would jump up to help them whenever she could, and even though it was her last day, that attitude didn’t change.

When, midway through her party, a regular attendee phoned the center to say he wouldn’t be able to make it, Niedoliwka heard the warning of signs of a possible medical emergency in his voice and without a word ran out to her car and started driving toward his home.

“He was gasping for air and having a hard time getting words out, and when he did, they were shaky and broken,” Niedoliwka said. “I thought he might be having a stroke or heart attack. I just knew I had to get there.”

Halfway there, her cellphone rang. It was the same man. This time his voice sounded better. He hadn’t been feeling well and was calling to apologize for not attending when there was a problem with his oxygen tank. The problem had been resolved, and he urged her to return to her party.

Back at the party, she shed the fright and went back to mingling with and serving the seniors who’ve meant everything to her for almost a decade.

When asked what’s next, Niedoliwka said she wasn’t sure just yet.

“I hope that senior happenings continue to improve,” she said. “I know I will stay active in the community, but I’m not sure where I’ll go from here, except that it will be forward.”

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