Sue Winthrop has always been drawn to older adults and learning from their experiences. From a young age, she enjoyed hearing her great-grandparents’ incredible stories and spent time with other older adults as she grew up.
After her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004, she read a book about World War II veterans that changed her life and piqued her interest in veterans. Shortly thereafter when she was writing a Memorial Day tourism article for the Longmont Times-Call, she met a fascinating WWII veteran who was on the board of Mountain View Cemetery. They became friends and Sue began visiting him weekly. “That was my first unofficial ‘Friendly Visitor’ volunteer experience, which happened organically,” Sue explains. “He passed away a few years ago and since visiting with him was such an incredible experience, I wanted to do something similar.”
Sue decided it would be meaningful to visit an older Jewish adult and reached out to Jewish Family Service earlier this year. She was matched with Seymour Gold, a 97-year-old WWII veteran living at Hover Senior Living Community in Longmont, and began visiting him in June.
Originally from the East Coast, Seymour moved to Colorado eight years ago to be close to his daughter, Bernice, when he began falling and had no family nearby. Bernice, his primary caregiver, reached out to JFS to get some relief and find a Jewish volunteer with whom her father could connect.
“It has been a perfect match!” exclaims Sue. “I visit every Sunday morning and we go for long walks, as long as the weather permits. Seymour loves walking through the nearby park and lights up when kids or dogs are there.”
Seymour has advanced memory loss and so far, hasn’t shared much with Sue about his war experiences. However, Sue and Seymour are recapturing their Jewish roots together, which has been a welcome surprise. “One day during our walk, I asked if he remembered the Shema prayer, and he did, so we sang it together as I pushed his wheelchair,” recalls Sue.
She has also played Barbra Streisand singing Avinu Malkeinu and Debbie Friedman songs for Seymour. “The music taps into something deep within him—memories from long ago—which is a joy to witness,” Sue says. “I attended synagogue while growing up in Minnesota, but haven’t found my Jewish niche in Colorado. Creating a Jewish connection with Seymour has been beautiful. We both get so much joy from this relationship.”
“Sue has been wonderful to my dad and provides a break for me every Sunday,” Bernice says. “Although I often need to remind him who Sue is, he really looks forward to her visits. My father is the only Jewish resident at Hover Manor, so I’m grateful that Sue can be the religious link in his life.”
Sue highly recommends the Friendly Visitor program to anyone looking to help an older adult. “You can connect with someone while bringing joy to both the person you’re visiting and yourself. It’s truly a win-win situation. I feel incredible when I leave Seymour—not because I did a mitzvah, but because I’m spending time with a delightful man with a wonderful history.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Friendly Visitor volunteer program, please contact Mary Pierce, volunteer services coordinator, at 720.749.3403.
Photos courtesy of Sue Winthrop. Top: Sue and Seymour with Rusty, a dog they met on one of their walks. Rusty is the same age as Seymour in people years and was an emotional support service dog for an Army Veteran. Bottom: Seymour wrapped in a tallit.