HOMETOWN HERO: Her focus is helping others succeed

Margaret Scehovic says she was awed seeing her mother be the hands and feet for her father, stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease. “My dad lived for 10 years with the debilitating disease, and yet was able to retain his position at work for most of that time because of one reason — my mother,” Scehovic recalls.

Margaret Scehovic says she was awed seeing her mother be the hands and feet for her father, stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“My dad lived for 10 years with the debilitating disease, and yet was able to retain his position at work for most of that time because of one reason — my mother,” Scehovic recalls.

“While raising six young children my mother physically handled all of my dad’s personal care needs, drove him to work, wheeled him into his office, helped him into his chair, put a pen in his hand, and slipped out before his work day began. There, my father was able to effectively run an electronic lab of 24 employees.

“It’s amazing what the human condition brings out in some people,” she says.

Scehovic is inspired by watching people here on South Whidbey take care of one another. Daily she witnesses volunteers and participants at the senior center quietly offering a hand of assistance and words of encouragement.

Scehovic says, “I am inspired and humbled by people who go about their work or volunteer endeavors quietly and without fanfare, yet have a major impact on the quality of life of our community.

“My personal heroes are Miki O’Brien, who always works behind the spotlight but is a major player in many community endeavors — and always with a sense of fun. And the ‘Time Together’ program where volunteers such as Norma Taylor — and all of the volunteers in the day services program — because she assists people with their personal care needs with as much dignity and care as she employs when listening to their stories.”

There are too many people struggling in life, she says, and each needs help.

“One of my own personal struggles is obvious — my weight. I am fortunate to know that my being overweight doesn’t take away from my self-worth.”

She hesitates, then says with a big smile, “Come to think of it, the point is, I don’t struggle enough with my weight. I’m not the only one, as most of us have body image issues.

“We all have barnacles, what we need to remember is that the barnacles do not define us.”

Scehovic can’t ignore a person struggling or in need.

Kate LeBaron, a public health nurse, remembers when she and Scehovic went to Seattle together.

“We passed a homeless person holding a sign asking for money. I noticed Margaret silently reaching into her purse and pulling out several bills and handing it to the person.”

Jim Self, the director of Senior Services, writes, “In 1993, when I became the senior nutrition program director, Margaret was the senior activities director. From my first day, she helped me learn and carry out my new responsibilities, and on more than one occasion, she talked me out of doing something dumb.

“She also supported me when she couldn’t talk me out of a bad idea and helped me salvage my dumb idea. I learned over time that her true motivation was for the good of the organization and, ultimately, the seniors. She can listen to a grand, multi-step complicated plan and then offer a simple solution or action that will gain the same result. She enjoys a new problem and works very hard to ensure its success but will eschew any credit for her efforts. Typically she is in the background making it all happen and then disappears when the applause begins.”

Scehovic maintains it’s all the people at the Bayview Senior Center that make the place so special.

She recalls recently when the center lost a dear man that came in every day for lunch.

“His kids flew in from Massachusetts with their children and came to the senior center to meet the people and place their dad called home. They explained that their dad had been raised in an orphanage and had always been a recluse. They told us ever since he got involved with the senior center his whole life changed and he became a happy and contented man.”

Walking into the Scehovic’s home, the walls are filled with photos of the kids and grandkids, a loving backdrop in a house furnished with stunning furniture that her husband Stephen makes. While taking time to talk, she hand stitches a quilt she is making for her youngest granddaughter.

She looks up from the quilt. “The senior center is full of encouraging and thoughtful people. After the completion of my first senior center events column for the Senior News, my boss at the time, Jo Drifmier, left a ‘Good Job!’ note on my desk. A small gesture with huge impact. (I still have that note!)

“I have such admiration for people who take the time to write a note or remember to say thoughtful words. It’s not that I don’t have lovely thoughts about people, often when I am driving along I think of someone and plan to send them flowers or a card. But unfortunately the moment passes. My intentions are good at the time, but…isn’t there a saying ‘hell is paved with good intentions’?

“I read in an etiquette book that it’s permissible to send a wedding or baby gift up to a year later,” she continues. “I wonder if there is a limit of years for sending thank-you notes, because I would love to thank so many people.”

She tells of the time Mary Day from her church dropped in at her house while Scehovic was watching five small kids.

“Mary looked at a stack of dishes I had in the sink and said, ‘How ‘bout I do those dishes?’ She ended up cleaning the entire kitchen. A perfectly timed act of kindness!”

Scehovic begins to think of all of her school teachers, and imagines how she would word her notes of thanks. “I wanted to thank Mr. Cravens for helping me with my science project. I have thought about it many times in the last 50 years.” She ponders the possibilities.

There are plenty of people that want to thank Margaret as well.

Margaret didn’t work when her children were small, remembers Lu Surface, a former South Whidbey Middle School teacher. “I asked her if my children could go and play with hers while I taught at the South Whidbey schools. She took my children in, loved them and provided them with number one parenting. Her position at the senior center is a continuation of her love and dedication to help those who need her help.”

Isobel Marker, a former Senior Services board member, enjoys Scehovic’s dedication — and sense of humor.

“One of Margaret’s planned activities is her innovative mystery trips. We never know where we are going, but when we arrive at our destination, there are always ‘ooohs.’ She tirelessly works on successful fundraisers, raffles, golf tournaments, dinners and fashion shows to raise funds for the senior center. Her desire to help others with compassion makes her a real inspiration.”

Scehovic says it’ll be hard for her to leave the senior center in October, but she wants to spend more time with her grandkids. And she plans to return to tutoring young math students and working more with youth in the community.

She says of the senior center, once a new activity director was hired she was able to cut her hours to part time.

“Michele Warner, the new activity coordinator, is already bringing new energy and ideas and has developed fun new programs, like cosmic bowling and Senior Striders.”

She has quite an act to follow, Warner admits.

“Scehovic is all about doing anything to help a person or an organization achieve and succeed,” says Warner.

“Margaret has a way of making you feel welcomed and accepted. She’s encouraged me to reach higher, and given me plenty of room to try ideas, while being available to answer questions and offer suggestions. I have appreciated her supportive style of leadership. It has allowed me the flexibility to develop programs. It would have been very difficult without her assistance as I began to learn my various responsibilities,” she adds.

Maureen Smith was on the board of directors at the center when Scehovic interviewed for her job in 1993.

“There was no question in our minds that she was the very best suited and qualified person for the position. She has been such an inspiration to all of us. She is the ‘heart’ of what the senior center is all about — helping people.”