Jerry Roberts began visiting Elmer Feifarek at his home in Grand Chute as a volunteer for ElderMatch Fox Cities, but through the years, he has become part of the family.
Jeanette Feifarek, Elmer’s daughter, moved from her home in Madison last year to be his primary caregiver. She explains that despite her father’s progressive vascular dementia, he looks forward to Jerry’s weekly visits.
“It is difficult for him to remember people, but because Jerry has been coming here for close to 5 years, he knows him,” she said. “Jerry could not be a better match for my dad. Jerry will sit there with avid interest and listen to his stories that he has heard over and over. Jerry engages him in conversation and surprises him with doughnuts every other week.”
ElderMatch, a free program of Volunteer Fox Cities and St. Paul Elder Services, matches community members with older adults living in their home. Jeanette appreciates the program.
“A listening, attentive ear is a greater gift than people realize,” she said. “Someone who will listen to their stories. It’s been a real gift to us.”
Roberts, who is a retired media director for the Weyauwega-Fremont School District, said getting to know the Feifarek family has been rewarding for him as well. He has learned a lot from the Korean War veteran who turns 90 on Oct. 8.
“He saw a lot of battles,” Roberts said. “It makes me appreciate more what people have to sacrifice. Elmer told me he can’t remember what he had for lunch, but he can remember every rock, boulder and path he went on while carrying that machine gun.”
Jeanette said Roberts is more than a volunteer.
“He is a friend,” she said. “He has not missed a day for almost five years and sometimes he even pops in extra. He is a volunteer extraordinaire! We are so blessed that Jerry has been in my dad’s life. His level of commitment to my dad is amazing.”
Roberts said the program has been a positive experience for him. He spends a few hours every Wednesday sitting with Elmer in the living room near the front window, looking outside at the birds and wildlife attracted by the feeders in the front yard of the house Elmer built.
“You have to have good listening skills and be patient, because in some cases, it may be the same conversation each week,” he said. “He was a self-made man who worked all the time. He first started installing flooring for contractors, then started building homes by himself.”
Roberts, who is a member of the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, also volunteers at the Paper Discovery Center, where he maintains the educational displays and at the Appleton Public Library, where he delivers audio and printed books to homebound library patrons through the Walking Books program. One day after he delivered some books, the patron told him that he was a lifeline that connected him to the world.
The Feifareks would agree.