Love and energy given, gratitude returned – Laurie Schreiber retires

Laurie Schreiber, leaving the Edgartown Council on Aging after 28 years, heard unstinting praise for her service from elders and colleagues, including Wendy Benedetto of West Tisbury, who will take over for Ms. Schreiber. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Laurie Schreiber has a gift for teaching happiness and love by example.

That thought was the takeaway last Friday afternoon at The Anchors, Edgartown’s Council on Aging (COA) center, where a happy tumult broke out in honor of the beloved Ms. Schreiber, the COA’s director of senior services for the past 28 years.

Several hundred friends, colleagues, and COA patrons jammed into the large community room, into an adjoining anteroom, and spilled into hallway entrances.

Everett Schmarsow, a colleague and program manager from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, defined Ms. Schreiber’s gift in a poem which read in part:

“… The measure would be the difference in the lives we engage….

“You found insight and resolution in problems, and opportunities in disguises. You absorbed news, errant confusions, fears and a thousand shock and surprises…

“Seniors were your compass; your time frame more the calendar than the clock….”

Ms. Schreiber retires tomorrow to begin a new chapter of her life in Nashville with her husband, John, where she will create, show, and teach pottery and travel a lot, she told The Times after the party.

“I am filled with gratitude,” Ms. Schreiber said. “This job meant so much to me. Over all the years I am so grateful to the town, the opportunities I was given to work with the many Friends of ECOA, the ECOA board of directors, the staff (it takes a team to accomplish anything), hundreds of volunteers and, of course, the 55+ residents and their families,” she said. “Every day gave me the opportunity to grow and redirect my ability to serve the seniors and their families. As I move on to a new place with different opportunities, I will never forget my experiences, they are all a little piece of who I am. It was an extraordinary privilege and a remarkable gift to serve the seniors of Edgartown.”

Wendy Benedetto, currently the activities coordinator for the supportive day program for the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living, will join the Edgartown COA on December 4, as director of senior services. Ms. Schreiber spent her final COA weekend huddling with Ms. Benedetto on the myriad of programs offered Island seniors by the Edgartown COA.

In formal remarks and in one on one conversations on Friday, colleagues, peers, and friends described the nature of Ms. Schreiber’s gift and its impact on so many Island seniors.

Artist Rose Abrahamson of Vineyard Haven counts Ms. Schreiber as a friend of 15 years as well as a service provider at The Anchors. Ms. Abrahamson, now 92, has had the life opportunity to observe a complete range of human personality.

“Laurie has no ego. She is very honest. Clear minded, without any self-absorption, qualities that are evident in her wonderful professional life. It just seems to me that she was born with a smooth disposition and kept it,” Ms. Abrahamson said.

Most of the partygoers asked to describe the qualities that define Ms. Schreiber’s contributions to the community paused for a moment as if to gather just the right words to describe a rarely encountered human spirit.

Anchors chef Diane Wall of West Tisbury took a minute’s respite in the kitchen from her preparation of a caravan of finger sandwiches, fruit cups, breads, cakes, and cookies for the crowd. “Laurie has boundless energy and she is always thinking about new ideas, what’s next, for our senior community,” she said, smiling. “She is ferocious about getting good things done. The Friday Cafe is a good example of that. She got the idea from a senior center in Chicago five years ago, and we were up and running within a month, I’d say. Our Friday $5 Cafe was so successful that we added $2 Tuesdays.”

Ms. Wall has been cooking professionally for more than 20 years and puts her talent to creating healthy, inexpensive meals with an eye to senior diets. According to former administrator Diane Durawa, Ms. Schreiber has presided over more than 1,000 lunches over the life of the twice weekly meal program.

Several attendees credited Ms. Schreiber with growing an arts culture at The Anchors. “She began the arts program here and welcomed exhibits from me and others,” Island artist Susan Sellers said.

Annie Heywood from Chappaquiddick, a member of the Dock Street Hookers, a rug making group, concurred, adding: “Laurie knows this place is important. So many seniors don’t have family here. The Anchors is an important part of their lives.”

Anchors receptionist Donna Paulson, author and contributor to several books on the value of character and perseverance in our everyday lives, has had a clear view over the past five years of Ms. Schreiber’s lesser known contributions to Anchor patrons. “She visits homebound seniors, offers to bring them food. Those are services that are not easy to come by. And she uses humor to create an environment that makes this a good place to be,” Ms. Paulson said.

Anchors administrator Paul Mohair told well wishers that the list of Ms. Schreiber’s accomplishments was long.

“We’d need about a year’s worth of newsletters and you would need more free time than you have to read them all. But among the hundreds: Laurie started the Friday $5 Café and $2 Tuesday soup and sandwich luncheon; created our Outreach program through surveys and grant funding; developed our Wellness programs, including exercise groups, health talks, screenings, biking and walking events; started our Day Old Bread (program) donated from Stop & Shop; secured funding for our SHINE (Serving the Health and Information Needs of Elders) counseling program; helped to implement our Volunteer Driver Program; designed the Anchors resource directory; wrote a 30-year history of the Anchors; started the foot clinic for seniors in 2008 (13 years in the making), and co-authored the monthly “55+” pullout section in the MV Times.

“Laurie has been the glue that keeps all the pieces together, and the oil for all the moving parts. She is glue, oil, and every other kind of goo you can imagine that makes the Anchors the high performance engine it is. We will miss our goo.”