Category Archives: Sterling Assisted Spotlight

Meet Jack

Attend a meeting of the Men’s Club at Oakmont Sterling Assisted, and you’ll no-doubt find Jack – a fixture of the club’s weekly get-togethers. An electrical engineer by trade, and a Detroiter through-and-through, Jack’s story is one of perseverance over poverty, and life-long love.

Surviving the Depression

Like many families in the United States, Jack’s was heavily impacted by the Great Depression. His parents lost most of their money when the banks around them closed and, with it, so did their bank accounts. Luckily, the family was able to survive thanks to a vacant lot they had next door and some fertile soil ripe for planting.

“We had an extra lot there [in St. Clair Shores], and my father grew vegetables and my mother canned,” he recalled. The small urban farm also had plenty of animals including chickens, rabbits, and homing pigeons that would always return to their home after being set free.

At this time, his dad also worked for the Packard Motor Car Company, and when they closed and were bought out by another soon-to-be-closed company, Studebaker, his dad was soon out of a job. “My dad’s pension was just a flat 2,000 for 45 years of service. That didn’t last long, so he went to Curtis Wright when he was in his 60s, and started working on submarine engines.”

Finding a Job; Meeting His Wife

While his father was working to make a living at Curtis Wright, Jack was making his way through Catholic School in the City of Detroit – first at Assumption Grotto and then St. Anthony High School. With no money for college, Jack took on a variety of odd jobs at places like Stroh’s Brewery and Canada Dry before finally landing in electrical engineering at the Square D Company. It was around this time that he met his wife through a friend.

“I met my wife through a friend named Mary,” Jack said. “She said to me, ‘why don’t you get a boyfriend for me and I’ll get a girlfriend for you and we’ll all go on a bowling team. So we did, and that’s how I met my wife, at a bowling alley,” he said, laughing.

An organist by trade who used to play in many of the area churches, his wife would soon give birth to the couple’s six children. After a move to Warren and Sterling Heights, Jack got a job with General Electric, where he continued his work in electrical engineering while attending night school at Lawrence Tech.

A Growing Family

As his children grew and had children of their own (Jack now has 12 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren), his wife, unfortunately, became ill. After living in a condo and serving as her primary caregiver for several years, Jack moved his wife into an assisted living facility so she could continue to be cared for. Now, as a resident of Oakmont Sterling Assisted, he’s enjoying a worry-free lifestyle and remains a fixture at the weekly men’s club meetings.

“I like it here,” he said, referring to Oakmont Sterling Assisted. “It’s very nice, everybody is friendly. The activities keep us busy and the food is good.”

Meet Evelyn

Doing things strictly ‘by the book’ never was the method used by Evelyn and her husband of more than 60 years, John.

That’s fine. Being innovative helped make a very happy life for them. From the way she met John to the places they’ve lived, Evelyn explained how their life together was forged from a can-do attitude about most everything.

During World War II, she stayed busy at USO events; basically, helping soldiers on leave have a good time during their visits home.

Since there was a strict no-dating policy, Evelyn found a way to circumvent that.

“I took him to church,” she said. “It was love at first sight. He was a nice, clean-cut guy.”

Finding creative means for more than 60 years

That may have been the first instance where Evelyn and John were creative, but by no means would it be the last.

The first home they built was on some property they were leasing near 13 Mile Road and Woodward. Actually, the owner could have taken the property, but, “We just did it. John, he was full of pep and I was probably as crazy as he was.”

When John’s father heard of the plan, he immediately bought the land on the condition the son and his wife would pay him back.

“They were just two young kids that did not know what they were doing,” their daughter Barb said. “But there was a lot of love.”

A new way of changing addresses

Eventually, Beaumont Hospital was being built on nearby property. That meant Evelyn and John had to move. Literally, that’s what they did. They had the house physically moved a few miles away.

Evelyn was married to John for 62 years and had four children; daughters Barb and Nancy, plus sons Brian and John (who died a few years ago). Their desire to do things their way never changed with age. As time went on, they decided to purchase an old farmhouse in Almont. They weren’t crazy with the idea of it being so close to the road, so — of course — they had it moved about 100 feet up the driveway.

As it turned out, John decided to make some unique upgrades to their home. They were not only incredibly practical, but were also exceeding progressive for the mid-1980s. They added a first-floor laundry room, made extra-wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs (just in case) and included geothermal energy. They enjoyed that home for years, but as John died and Evelyn suffered a stroke, it was apparent the home had to be sold.

“It was so hard to sell it. My heart was just breaking, but it had to be done,” Evelyn said. “But the family who bought it had two little girls and they were so sweet.”

Meet Roy

Being involved with the development of hydraulic fuel pumps for airplanes is something Roy never takes lightly. In fact, to this day, it still makes him beam with pride.

“The pride of developing pumps and hydraulic motors for airplanes, people don’t realize how much of it is hydraulics. It’s the bloodstream of an airplane,” he said. “I’m so proud to be part of it.”

His work as an engineer required Roy to provide intricate drawings for aircraft parts, and later, submarine parts. But his love for drawing did not stop in the workplace. Not only was he fascinated with drawing at a young age, but it’s something he’s known for now at Oakmont Sterling Assisted.

Not only does he draw portraits and landscapes, but he also came up with a logo for the community’s choir. Indeed, he is known for his artistic skills.

It began with a movie

“I love drawing. I have, for as long as I can remember,” said Roy, who was 10 years old when the groundbreaking movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was released. It was Disney’s first animated feature. “I enjoyed it so much, after I got home, I drew pictures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Roy’s father was impressed by his son’s efforts, suggesting he write to Walt Disney to show his abilities.

Walt Disney himself wrote back.

“You’re too young to join my staff right now, but when you finish high school, go to an accredited art school for four years, then get back in touch with me,” Disney wrote. “I was bound to be an engineer, but I never stopped liking to draw Walt Disney.”

Though he never graduated from college, he advanced from junior craftsman to assistant chief engineer 50 years later. Along the way, he moved from Cleveland to Troy.

“I did it without a degree,” he said, “but I worked hard all the way.”

The best possible dance lessons

Roy met Mary Lois, who would eventually become his wife of 64 years, while they attended West Technical High School in Cleveland. They met in an after-school dance class, set up for seniors

“I didn’t have a girlfiend, and I didn’t know how to dance, but I was hopeful to go to the senior prom,” he said. They were paired up and soon began a four-year courtship. What was interesting was Mary Lois lived in the upstairs flat in the same residence where Roy grew up – and they never met each other until that dance class.

Loved his job, stayed there 24 years – worked his way up with aircraft hydraulic equipment – technical drawings, design drawings for jet engine companies mostly

“We made the right decisions early on in our marriage, so when things happened, they weren’t a surprise,” he said. “When we had our 50th anniversary party, they asked how do you stay together so long. Mary Lois and I never went to bed angry with each other. We stayed up quite late sometimes, but we never went to bed angry with each other.”

Roy’s son and daughter live in the Detroit area. He recently became a great grandfather. “You don’t realize what a thrill it is, as old as you are, to hold a member of a new generation,” he said. “I never was the success I wanted to be, but neither was I a failure. And I’m proud of that woman I married…I’ve had a wonderful life.”

Meet Larry

Life is full of many twists and turns. Take it from Larry, an outgoing resident at Oakmont Sterling Assisted, adaptability and education makes getting through those changes possible.

“You have to adjust,” he said. “I don’t care what kind of work you do, you have to adjust.”

Adjust, he did. Growing up in the area of 14 Mile and Ryan roads, he was eventually drafted and served in Korea. He came back and began working in a tool and dye shop.

“I was lucky enough to get on a drafting board and get into layout, then I was able to get into Lawrence Tech for a year and two semesters,” Larry said, recalling how he went to school during the day, then worked midnights.

After a while, Larry was issued a journeyman’s card, both in tool and dye and as a machinist. “Even though I didn’t belong to a union, I got my journeyman’s card because I helped so many union workers. That was unusual for that to happen.”

If you think that’s where his professional history stayed until his retirement, well, you don’t know Larry.

Tool and dye, farming and a bakery

After a few job moves and a layoff, Larry found himself back with an earlier employer. Things were humming along there; however, he also had an uncle who bought a farm near Lansing, in Williamston.

When the uncle died, Larry found himself carrying out a deathbed wish to watch over the farm. (Since he had his own background working on a farm when he was a youngster, it wasn’t completely foreign to him). It was a large-scale 1,500-acre operation.

Oh, there was also a bakery business. But not just your run-of-the-mill bakery business. This was Oaza Bakeries, a popular Hamtramck-based bakery with 32 outlets. That created a schedule of research work during the week, plus managing both the farm and bakery.

“I expected it would be busy with the bakery, but not that busy. I was just going to be managing, but it got to be an awful lot to handle,” Larry said. “But it was a commitment I made to the uncle the night he passed away. I told him I’d take care of it until he’d get back, but he never did.”

From there, it was back to doing design work. Until one day, Chrysler Corporation called. They needed someone to work at the missile plant at 16 Mile and Van Dyke.

“I never did printed circuit boards, but I learned how to do printed circuit boards,” he said. “Sometimes, you just have to learn something new.”

Commitment to education benefits Warren schools

That penchant for learning carried over into an academic setting. Discovering his school district in Warren was considering shipping its students interested in shop class to nearby school districts, he ran for school board – on which he served for 45 years. In that time, the district was able to create its own first-rate auto shop program. For his efforts in the community, a community room was named in his honor at the newly re-opened Dorothy M. Busch Library Branch in Warren. She was his librarian as a youngster.

Larry, who was married 53 years, has three children and a deceased daughter. He moved to Oakmont Sterling Assisted more than a year ago.

“They offer everything here,” he said. “It’s a really good place to live, they keep you busy.”

Which has always suited Larry just fine.