Tributes recall her passion, love for Senior Center
Story and Photos by Terry Duffy
This past Tuesday, a significant event was marked at the Town of Lewiston Senior Center. With dozens of visitors on hand, including town officials, area seniors and center members, family and many, many friends, Jeanette Collesano bid her goodbyes to all as Senior Center director.
A member of the Town of Lewiston Senior Center family for 26 years – the past 20 as director following the retirement of Betty M. Zucco – Jeanette appeared taken aback at times on the expressions of love expressed by many for her dedicated service to the community.
“I can’t thank you all enough for being here,” she said. “My good friends are here, my family is here, we have another presentation and I just have to say ‘Thank you.’ It’s been a journey – it’s been a great journey – it’s been more fun than bad. … We had our midnights when the sprinklers went off; we’ve been here when the heat didn’t go on; it’s just like home. You’re all my favorites and I thank you so much for coming.”
Throughout the celebration, which included a luncheon, presentation of gifts and various tributes from senior center staffers, family, friends and visitors, a common theme was Jeanette’s love and profound dedication to the Senior Center.
“She’s been a dear friend and not just my boss,” said Carol Jacobs, a Senior Center staff member who helped throw the party. “We’ve had a lot of fun together, I’m going to miss her like crazy and I’m sure a lot of you will, too. She’s always had every senior’s back, always.”
Sandra Maslen, who served as Town of Lewiston supervisor in the early 2000s, echoed that sentiment.
“I am here today on behalf of the seven supervisors that she worked with – three before me and three after. On behalf of those seven supervisors, we want to thank you for your dedication, for your commitment, for your leadership, and most of all for your love,” Maslen said. “Because if I had a nickel for every time she said to one of us, ‘I love my job,’ we’d all be rich. So I guess it’s going to be bittersweet for her, because she’s leaving you all behind.
“Jeanette, we wish you well. It’s time, my love: Go play.”
Former Town of Lewiston Supervisor Sandra Maslen was among those offering tributes for Jeanette.
Lewiston resident Paulette Glasgow, a long-time Senior Center member and friend of Jeanette, was introduced by her to the crowd as “club presidenté.” Glasgow spoke with emotion of the departing director’s passion in serving the center and Lewiston-area seniors.
“Before I say my remarks, I just want to give you a bit of insight: I have no problems writing editorials,” Glasgow said in a tongue-in-cheek reference to her letters in The Sentinel. “But this was the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do, and I kinda thought to myself, ‘Why?’
“To me, it’s like saying goodbye to her. … I know she’s not going very far, but she will not be (here) on a Tuesday when I come in sitting behind a desk, or trying to find her coffee cup, so here we go.”
“A senior center is a place in a community where seniors come and find fellowship, support, and socialize with other services,” Glasgow continued. “Senior centers are, to many seniors, an important aspect of their day, because it provides a friendly family feeling. Senior centers offer a variety of programs and services, from meals and nutrition to health and fitness, information assistance, to transportation.
“To be responsible for the operation, maintenance and planning of a senior center, at times, can prove to be a very challenging, a challenging job. But for 26 years, Jeanette Collesano has made it look flawless.
“While there’s been some interesting times around here, like in the middle of the night when a water heater broke and Jeanette and the Water Department were here, bailing buckets. But, there’s been happy times – like celebrating a senior’s 106th birthday and making her feel so very special. For over 9,000 days, or 26 years, Jeanette has dealt with each adventure, with professionalism and compassion.
“Jeanette, in her retirement letter, has said, ‘The time has come,’ that she needed to spend more time with her family. For over 9,000 days, we were Jeanette’s surrogate family, but the time has come that we have to return Jeanette to her real family.
“So, on behalf of our Lewiston seniors, I leave you with this: Learn to enjoy every minute; be happy; never wait for something outside yourself to make you happy; make every day a special time you spend with your family; every minute should be enjoyed and savored; and always, always, remember us.”
Lewiston resident Paulette Glasgow offered kind words for Jeanette’s “9,000 hours of service” to Lewiston’s seniors.
“Boy, it’s getting heavy-duty,” Jeanette said, as she laughed in reaction and looked about the crowd. “Again I can’t say enough about these people that are in this kitchen, spent a lot of hours preparing for this. … Carol and that crew Patty, Louie … they’ve done a terrific job with the food, the planning, the party. I just want to thank you for everything. You’re the best of friends … thank you.”
In his remarks, former Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano called his wife “an inspiration” to all.
Leading off, he quipped, “My lovely wife asked me if I would say a word for her and I said, Yes, I would,’ so here it goes: ‘Word.’ ”
As the crowd laughed, Collesano continued, “Well, what can I say, this is the girl I love, for what 36 years … this is the girl I fell in love with. She’s got a heart of gold, she really does, many of you seniors here know that.
“When she leaves the office here during the day, she’s on the phone, talking to the seniors, talking to her friends. And that’s the way she is, on the weekend, it could be any day. But she’s always here, to help.
“To her family she says this many times: I love you more today than yesterday.”
“She’s been a great inspiration, to the family, and to all you here at the Senior Center. She’s going to missed by you, I’m sure, but I’ll have her – so don’t worry,” he closed.
When asked what Jeanette will be doing, he replied tongue-in-cheek, “She’s got a list. She said when the weather breaks she’s getting a Dumpster, and go room to by room and clean out the house.”
The crowd again laughed.
As she concluded the affair, Jeanette, accompanied by her husband, offered a tribute by the Collesano family in memory of her predecessor at the Senior Center, former Director Betty Zucco. The couple presented members of the Zucco family who were on hand for the event with a park bench dedicated to Betty. It will remain at the Senior Center.
“I took this job over from a very, very special person in my life. Betty left (in 2004), when Betty did retire. I choose Feb. 20 – this Thursday would have been my mom’s birthday, and this Thursday would have been Betty’s mom’s birthday. To move on, what we decided to do is invite her family … Rick, Betty’s son, plus her nieces and nephews. On behalf of the Collesano family, we decided that we wanted to leave something here in honor of my other second mother, Betty Zucco,” Jeanette said. “We bought a nice park bench. … (It’s) in her memory from all of us. We’re going to leave it inside. It’s from the Collesanos, and we love you much. We just want to do this for you.”
The Collesanos and family members of former Senior Center Director Betty Zucco dedicate a park bench in Betty’s honor. The bench nameplate also is shown.