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Ellen KofronMythbuster: Ellen Kofron

Date of interview: June 14, 2002

Ellen Kofron, 91, is Benjamin Rose's MythBuster Contest winner for the "Attitude" category in the 76+ age group. She was chosen for exemplifying living life as full as one can. A Cleveland native, Mrs. Kofron was 52 when her husband died. With two daughters to raise, she went back to school to earn a teaching degree. After retiring at age 72, she took up spinning and weaving. When macular degeneration struck at age 84, she found ways to keep active. Let's find out more about this MythBuster.

Tell me about yourself.
My parents were from Slovakia. I grew up on West 50th Street in Cleveland. I am the oldest of four daughters. I'm 91; my sisters are 87, 85 and 83.

My parents were hard workers and had positive attitudes. They had a "mom and pop store," but along came the Depression and they lost everything they had. My father was a furniture repairman, and also a very good cabinet maker. They got back to the point where they had money saved and owned their own home.

They didn't know English well. One time I asked my father, "Otec (Father), didn't you worry about how your daughters were going to end up?" He said, "Why should I worry about you? I came here from Europe at about 18 years of age. I didn't have any money and didn't know any English. I came out alright. You were born here, you know the language, and have an education."

Back in Slovakia, my parents didn't get through more than the 8th grade. But children are taught differently there. They know history from way back, poetry, and classical music. I think that influenced them.

My father was the oldest living founder of the Dr. Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brooklyn; I'm involved with the to this day.

What did your husband do?
He was a wholesale milkman. He attended Ohio University. He started out in sales, and he'd be all dressed up, but he couldn't stand it. He said he had to have something physical. He was an educated man. He read U.S. News and World Report, and enjoyed the theater and the art museums. In fact, a few months before he passed away, he took the children and me to hear the U.S. Marine band downtown, keeping them up late on a school night to do that.

How did you meet him?
My cousin was marrying his cousin. She wanted me to be her maid of honor. Her husband wanted his cousin to be his best man. We met at their wedding. It's very confusing, people can't figure out why Blanche's name and my name are the same. We didn't marry brothers, and we're not sisters (laughs)

My husband's family wanted us to live near them, so we bought a little bit of land from their farm on Rt. 303 in Hinckley, and had a home built.

Even though he died in 1964, I lived there until 1986. I didn't want to sell my home, but when I retired, I didn't get the income I had had. Besides, Hinckley was a little far away for me to be by myself.

You were pretty young when your husband died.
I was devastated. I was 52. We had just taken our older daughter to Bowling Green State University. The other one was in junior high.

But somebody said to me, "Don't be crying about losing your husband in front of other people, because everybody has their own heartache." She also told me that if somebody asks me to go somewhere, I should go.

What really helped me was my friend, Helen, who lived down the street on Rt. 303. Our older daughter babysat for their children occasionally. She is a wonderful friend. She'd call and say, "I'm going here or going there, do you want to come along?" I didn't care where she was going. Whatever I was doing, I would just drop it.

I made up my mind that the best thing is to "get up and go." It makes me think of one of my favorite sayings: "If you feel sorry for yourself because you don't have shoes, you may see a man without feet." I always think something can turn out better.

You also went back to college after he died.
I graduated from high school during the Depression. I couldn't go to college then. I took some classes at Cleveland College downtown while I was a secretary at St. Luke's Hospital's Pathology Laboratory. I wanted to be a technician there, but then we moved to Hinckley.

I went to Kent State University after my husband passed away, and got a Bachelor of Science degree in education. He had been on the Hinckley School Board. I knew many of the board members and teachers. Good friends encouraged me. We are very good friends to this day.

How long have you been weaving?
I retired from teaching school when I was 72, since I had a late start (laughs).

I used my bonus money to buy the loom. I bought it at Weaving and What Not in Rocky River. I learned how to weave there. I also bought a spinning wheel. I made many friends through those classes. That's how I met Marienka (who nominated Mrs. Kofron for the contest). We talk often. We had an interesting three-day weaving conference at Baldwin Wallace College in 1983. I belonged to the West Side Weavers Club, and also to a national weaving organization.

When did your macular degeneration start?
About seven years ago. I was watching Peter Jennings' person of the week while cooking my dinner. He had this legally blind paraolypmic girl on and said, "This is what she uses to read with." It looked like a T.V. I had to get one.

The next day, I thought, "Maybe I'll call the TV station about how I can get one of those." Then I received a flyer from the Cleveland Sight Center saying they were going to have an exhibit of sight aids on Bagley Road.

My friend, who helps helps me with errands, drove me there. Lo and behold, there were these machines! The salesman for the equipment lives where my granddaughter lived in Westerville. It turns out the company who makes these is 45 minutes away from where my daughter lives in California. I was going to visit her in a few weeks. We went to the company. Their president spent over an hour with us.

Now I can read books, magazines, anything. It's wonderful. Before that I had to have my sister come once a week to help me read the bills and write the checks.

Of course, reading newspapers, ads, etc., was out of the question.

You think you make your plans, but things change. Then they somehow turn out. I believe in fate.

So your macular degeneration hasn't totally slowed you down.
Oh, no. Last year when I was 90, my daughter came from Austin, Texas, and my granddaughter came from New York. They stayed here four days. We had a wonderful time!

We went to the Rock Hall. I think it's a wonderful place. The staff ordered a wheelchair for me. The people were very polite, and nicely dressed. The exhibits are wonderful. Since my sight is so bad, I was impressed because I could see the exhibits. It was all very clean and neat. It's an asset to Cleveland.

Do you think it's unusual for a 90-year-old woman to want to go to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame and Museum?
I didn't think much about it. My daughter came up from Texas, and really wanted to see the John Lennon exhibit to tell her husband about it. He is a really gifted guitar player, having had his own rock band. That seemed natural. I feel any and every experience is an advantage.

You get out and about despite your macular degeneration.
Yes, I had to give up driving. I use the Parma Heights senior citizen bus, which is a wonderful service, I also use the RTA paratransit senior citizen coach because of my eye disability. You have to call a week in advance. In fact, tomorrow they're picking up a friend and me to go to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Having this eye disability, I am permitted to have someone go shopping with me and they ride free. I only pay $1.25 each way. It's part of the American Disability Act.

You were recently ill, but you seem like you are already better.
I'm making up my mind to get better. I experienced what it's like to have in-home care and to go to a nursing home for rehabilitation.

I started taking this medication because they thought I had high blood pressure. I had various tests. That's when I broke out into the rash from head to toe. You tell someone you were sick for months and spent six weeks in a rehab center with a rash and they think you're out of your mind.

With the help of a determined cousin, Ruth, and Helen, I found the right doctor who found out what was going on. In the meantime, our church started a visiting nurse program. The nurse also suspected something. It all came to a head just three weeks ago. But it's all over with now.

Do you have any particular attitude towards aging?
I had my children rather late. I think that kept me energetic. I don't think very much about it. I didn't even realize it was nearing the year 2000. My granddaughter and I were shopping. She saw necklaces with the year 2000 on them. She bought one for each of us.

Do you have an attitude towards life?
As I said, I like the saying about feeling sorry for yourself, then you see the man with no feet. There's always someone worse off than you.

I think my friend Helen's mother was my role model. She's deceased now, but she had that same "let's go here or let's go there" attitude, which is where Helen gets it. She had eight children and 32 grandchildren. She always knew what each one was doing with their lives.

Helen and I were laughing about this the other day: One time we were at Benny Shapiro's having a corned beef sandwich. It was 11 o'clock at night. Helen and I were ready to go home and go to bed, but her mother says, "So where are we going next?" I love that!

Most importantly, I must give credit to my daughter Suzann, her husband Chris, my daughter Constance, my granddaughter Lissa, her husband Eric, my large family, relatives and friends, to all of whom I am very grateful.

And yes, one must "get up and go!"

 

Ellen died in February 2013 at the age of 101.



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