If you’ve spent any time in and around Oakmont Parkway over the last several years, it would be impossible not to recognize Jean. Always ready with a friendly smile and always involved in what’s going on at the community, she’s become Parkway’s unofficial resident ambassador, bringing smiles and good feelings everywhere she goes. Though she’s called Michigan home for the last 80-plus years, Jean’s story actually starts in the Keystone State. Here’s her story:
From Pennsylvania to Packard
Born in Pennsylvania, Jean, whose real name is Genevieve, moved with her family to the Motor City when she was very young. Her father, a veteran of the coal mines back in the Commonwealth, quickly got a job at Packard Motor Company after the family moved, shoveling coal into the furnaces to keep the plant up and running. While her father worked, her mother stayed home to help raise Jean and her siblings as they made their way through school.
Life was comfortable for the family, and Jean spent much of her free time playing outside and building a friendship with a boy down the street named Harry whom she would eventually marry years later. In the meantime, she graduated from Northeastern High School on the City’s northeast side and soon after got a job as an inspector at the very same Packard plant where her dad was working. It was during the years of World War Two, and Jean joined so many other women of her generation in the factories for the first time – keeping the Arsenal of Democracy up and running for the war effort.
“I remember, I had an easy job there at Packard’s. I was an inspector,” Jean said. “I used to feel so bad because my Dad had to shovel all that coal in the foundry every day. To me at that time, I thought he was real old,” she said laughing. “But here I am, this young person with this easy job, and he’s doing all that hard work, and I have to walk past him every day.”
One of her favorite memories of working at the Packard Plant was the comradery shared among all of her co-workers. Oftentimes, her boss would walk into the room singing a song, and all of the other workers would join in – almost like a scene from a movie. Whether it was patriotic numbers or the popular songs of the day, the singing helped to keep morale high and build a united workforce inside of the factory.
A Hero Turned Husband
It was during these years that Harry, her soon-to-be husband, was undergoing elite training overseas. He was a member of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, training in Panama to counteract any attempt by the Germans to invade a South American country. His unit was eventually shipped out to Europe for the Battle of the Bulge where they experienced huge losses during the legendary conflict. The unit, including Harry, was eventually absorbed by the 82nd Airborne until he was discharged and returned to Jean and civilian life in Michigan.
With the love of her life back Stateside, Jean left her job at Packard to start a family. They got married, and Harry took a job at GE Carbaloid while she stayed home with the children – six in total. The family moved to Roseville, and the children grew up to pursue a wide variety of interests. Their oldest became a doctor, while another went to the Seminary. One became a nurse and moved to South Carolina, another had a 30-year career with Blue Cross, Blue Shield. They each inherited the concrete work ethic of Jean and Harry, building long and successful careers, and raising families of their own.
As time moved on after Harry passed, the family decided it was best for Jean to be in a place where she wouldn’t have to worry about the day-to-day stresses of owning a home. She soon moved to Oakmont Parkway, where she quickly made friends and joined in on the fun. She participates in many daily activities, including her favorite, Bingo, and even has her kids come to join her for dinner in the dining room most nights. On her time so far at Oakmont, Jean was quick to answer: “I’ve always had really good neighbors here,” she said, “and I like It a lot.”