Widow finds volunteering adds meaning to life

Written by Karen Mahoney, Special to your Catholic HeraldThursday, 25 July 2013 08:46

When former schoolteacher, Susan Erdmann retired from JCPenny in 2007, she didn’t take a long vacation, sit on her porch reading books, or lounge around. Instead, the now 65-year-old widow volunteered her time at Milwaukee Catholic Home.
<img alt="" src="http://www.chnonline.org/images/stories/2013/7-25-13ML/volunteering.jpg&quot; style="border-style: solid; border-width: 1px; margin: 0px;" title="Sue Erdmann, left, a member of St. Martin of Tours Parish, Franklin, and a Milwaukee Catholic Home volunteer strings beads with resident, Julia McKale, on July 15. Erdmann was named the 2012 Milwaukee Catholic Home Volunteer of the Year. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)” />Sue Erdmann, left, a member of St. Martin of Tours Parish, Franklin, and a Milwaukee Catholic Home volunteer strings beads with resident, Julia McKale, on July 15. Erdmann was named the 2012 Milwaukee Catholic Home Volunteer of the Year.(Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)“My husband died very young,” she said. “He died in 1999 and was only 53, so when I retired, my three kids were grown and out of the house and I did not want to sit at home feeling sorry for myself.”

An avid golfer, the season had just ended and Erdmann, a member of St. Martin of Tours, Franklin, wanted to find something to do other than sit home and watch television. She had a neighbor who worked at Milwaukee Catholic Home and inquired about volunteering.

“She got me in contact with the coordinator of volunteers and we discussed what I liked to do and when I could do it,” she explained. “I decided that Mondays worked best and I have been doing this since October of 2007.”

Erdmann recently received the volunteer of the year award from Milwaukee Catholic Home for her five years of service to the residents. Founded in 1913, Milwaukee Catholic Home serves a variety of needs, including independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, generations supportive services, rehabilitation and memory care.

In the residence, Erdmann spends every Monday assisting with Book Buddies, a program offering area elementary students the opportunity to receive reading help from the MCH seniors. She also leads a weekly crafting class, helping residents in jewelry making, crocheting and quilting. In the health and rehabilitation center, Erdmann hosts weekly bingo games. She also helps at Generations, the adult day care center by serving meals and doing other activities.

“I just love working with the elderly; they are so cute, and so appreciative,” she said. “I enjoy helping them with bingo, and even if we have to put the chips on the board for them, they are very excited. Many of the residents in the health center have a lot of physical disabilities, and it is frustrating for them. We can usually bring them around and cheer them up by interacting with them.”

While Erdmann’s own octogenarian parents are living in their home, she understands both will probably move to a residence such as Milwaukee Catholic Home before too long.

“I will get there too, someday,” she said. “It is important for the elderly to have visitors and people who really care about them. I just want to help out; and the older people are so fascinating. They have great stories to tell and they really love having companionship, and someone there to talk to and do stuff with. It makes them feel valued.”

Whether it is assisting residents with holiday decorations, lining shelves, cleaning closets or the occasional ironing, Erdmann enjoys spending time with them, and at times, brings her grandchildren along.

“I babysit for my four grandchildren on a regular basis; they are 2, 4, 6, and 8 and the two older ones love coming here,” she said. “The 8-year-old said, ‘Grandma, I like it here. The people are so nice.’ She wanted to come back here the next week.”

Though she enjoys all of the activities with the residents, Erdmann is especially fond of baking with them.

“We make cookies or cinnamon honey nuts and a lot of the residents enjoy helping,” she said. “We gab away with each other and really have a fun time. I like doing the crafts with them, too, but at times it is hard when some of our best crafters become ill and can’t participate with us.”

Her enthusiasm, dedication and love for the residents drew the attention of Mary Cherniak, director of volunteer services, to present the volunteer of the year award to Erdmann.

“She is incredible and the top of the volunteers,” she said. “She has been here eight hours a week for six years now and there is nothing she won’t do. She is very talented, too, and we are so blessed to have her.”

Erdmann never expected to receive the award, as, in the past, residents who volunteered their time were the recipients.  

“I have gone to the luncheon for a few years, and never expected anything until I saw my kids show up near the chapel area, and then I knew that something was up,” she said. “I was so honored to receive this and was given a museum membership for a year, a corsage and a plaque. It was just such a wonderful surprise.”

In addition to caring for her grandchildren and volunteering at Milwaukee Catholic Home, Erdmann sings with the Hales Corners Community Chorus, enjoys biking and belongs to a bowling league.

She also volunteers at St. Martin of Tours.

“I am on the breakfast welcome committee where we make breakfast for new members every so often, and help with hospitality and other gatherings,” she said. “I also belong to a little informal group that gets together to play canasta every month. We call ourselves the Church Ladies.”

Erdmann encourages adults with free time to look into volunteering in their community and not to be afraid if they don’t have crafting, music or baking skills.

“It is so easy; just first think about where you might want to volunteer or what you might like to do,” she said. “You can Google the names of nursing homes or schools, whatever might appeal to you. In the MCH, we have a little store and they need people to stand by the register, or make popcorn, stocks shelves or take things from the store in the residence to the health center side. We have two beauty shops and they always need help with that, too. There is a novelty store on the health care side that sells jewelry, pottery and other things; and they always need help. They also need help with art classes, woodworking, help in the library and the chapel. Really, there is so much to do and people who volunteer really enjoy helping others; and it makes you feel good too.”

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