Driving Miss Daisy
By Jo Strausz Rosen
The ability to travel around town, going wherever we want – whenever we want, is a freedom that most of us enjoy. We take for granted that we can slip behind the wheel of a vehicle and drive off without giving it much thought. But for a portion of the sage-ing population, once routine outings like shopping, going to the grocery store, the library, social gatherings, or doctor’s appointments have become a monumental challenge. As we age, health conditions may impact driving and we must find other methods for getting to and from our daily activities. Age-related vision changes and eye disease, medications, hearing loss, limited mobility, reduced strength, and longer reaction time are just a few reasons why we might no longer drive. But fear not. Residents at JSL can schedule their drives and ride in style with our life saving drivers.
Calvin Burns of Southfield has worked for JSL since 2001. He began driving residents to and from medical appointments, retired in 2014 and then returned in 2016 to drive the bus for Meer residents. Calvin says he is inspired by the residents and had 2 special residents he drove to medical appointments. One of them baked Calvin key lime pies on a regular basis. When the other resident who did not have local family, had to move for a higher level of care, Calvin kept in touch and visited them. Calvin is a loving man who celebrates his 54th wedding anniversary this year. He says, “he just wants to make people happy.”
Former Veteran, Bob Van Fleet also drives Meer residents. Prior to coming to JSL, Bob was a school bus driver and then sold cars for 40 years. After he retired, he accepted positions at Kroger and Home Depot. He says, “Working at JSL is the best job I ever had.” Always personable, Bob fills the bus with 5-10 eager passengers ready to see the world, go banking or out to eat and shop. The joy people feel in his company spreads far and wide. Additionally, if they ask, Bob provides his delicious dessert recipes on demand!
Harold Weisman resides at Prentis Apartments in Oak Park. JSL employs him to drive our Assisted Living residents to doctor appointments and hair salons.
Fridays was a favorite day for Harold. That was when he drove Ileene Zate z’l” for her hair appointment. Ileene got around in an electric wheelchair and her zest for life was contagious. She relished shopping, good stories and ice cream. Harold drove her and accompanied her on these outings, and they became close friends. Harold says, “I will miss her dearly.”
He remembers when JSL arranged for resident Harry Dines z’l” to attend his granddaughter’s wedding on a Sunday afternoon. Harold drove him to the hotel and wheeled him in his chair. “Harry was so happy, “said Harold. “The ride home was amazing. He was so excited he could attend, and he relived the entire wedding with me and shared that he was able to enjoy not one but 2 beers! He talked about this experience for weeks.”
For the past 6 years, Richard Gautreau has driven the bus on the Oak Park JSL campus taking Teitel and Prentis residents grocery shopping, banking, and to restaurants and other outings. He is a member of Temple Shir Shalom and active in their Brotherhood and is also a member of St. Owens Church active in the Knights of Columbus. Richard appreciates all the different residents he encounters in Oak Park. He says it was beshert to meet his late wife, Janet Brody,z’l” in 1985. Sadly, she passed away last year due to COVID complications. Richard became Jewish by marriage and his sense of humor is evident when he discusses his work and the wonderful people on the bus he drives. A favorite memory is when he drove 12 residents to attend an open rehearsal of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to hear the magnificent chorus of Turandot sing Nessem Dorma.
JSL drivers like Harold, Bob, Calvin, and Richard are lifelines for our residents. True lifesavers at times, they take residents where they want and need to go and they also provide companionship, friendship, conversation, and even a recipe or two.