The little house on Toledo Avenue acts as a beacon to the rest of the street, its Christmas lights evoking the spirit of the season for all visitors – even when it’s not Christmastime at all.
Gertrude Klocek’s lights brighten up her street year-round. In the front window, a Christmas tree twinkles. While inside, wreaths adorn the doors and a garland runs up the banister. Gertrude takes pride in the expansive Christmas village she displays in her dining room, as well as the group of caroler figurines – at least 20 – who take up residence on her entertainment center. Since the decorations are always set, 96-year-old Gertrude jokes she is never late for Christmas.
“It’s delightful to see it lit up at night,” says neighbor Missy O’Brien. “It’s a wonderful reminder of love. Gertrude and her home are a shining light on our street.”
Gertrude loves bringing the joy she feels at Christmas to her neighbors year-round. “Since I was little, Christmas was a special time in our home,” she says. “It’s just a magical time – so my decorations keep me merry all year long! I look at my lights and think, ‘What a blessing at my age to be able to turn on my lights and enjoy them.’”
Gertrude’s decorations light up the house she has lived in for 64 years. She is happy to age in place, even as she deals with a heart murmur and macular degeneration. But a fall down the steps and a broken hip in February 2018 almost sidelined her, until she connected with Samaritan.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think, ‘What would my life look like without Samaritan?’ They are my angels,” says Gertrude who is also living aortic stenosis, disease of the heart valve. Samaritan’s care team – comprised of physicians, nurses, chaplains, home health aides and social workers visit Gertrude regularly to check her vital signs, monitor any issues, and assist with bathing, laundry or anything needed to stay comfortable. Social worker Susan Cedrone, LCSW stops in to check on Gertrude once a week, and Gertrude loves the chance to socialize.
“I visit on Friday to sort of ‘tuck her in’ for the weekend,” Susan explains. “I’ll make sure she’s all set, and that she’s connected with someone from Samaritan for the weekend.” Susan makes sure to time her appointments so she can always find a way to benefit Gertrude – whether that’s helping her write out checks or bringing lunch so they can enjoy a meal together. “For someone who lives alone at her age, having someone to connect with on a regular basis is important,” Susan says.
“Samaritan’s care has made a very big difference in her quality of life,” says Gertrude’s son Jim Klocek. Jim and his family live outside Chicago, and his brother Dennis and family live in California – so knowing Samaritan is checking in on Gertrude gives them peace of mind. “The Samaritan caregivers are looking out for her, and not just physically and mentally; they even do some light housekeeping.”
But Samaritan isn’t alone. They’re part of what Jim calls “Mom’s angel network” that includes the neighbors of Toledo Avenue.
“Her neighbors would do anything for her,” says Laura MacGregor, another neighbor. “Gertrude is so positive and upbeat, everyone wants to be around her.” Laura, Missy, their families and many other neighbors help around the house and yard, take Gertrude on errands, or just visit with her. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant the neighbors need to be extra careful with their outreach, but they still enjoy giving back to the woman they lovingly call Nana.
“We’re neighbors, but we’re family,” Missy adds.
Gertrude loves giving back to her neighborhood as well – not just with her Christmas lights, but by teaching neighbors how to cook her family’s Polish recipes, and sharing memories, including the story of her life she has written for her grandchildren, and the article about her late husband she wrote for Reminisce Magazine.
“My daughter-in-law says this is a Norman Rockwell street,” Gertrude says, acknowledging how grateful she is for her support system. “I often say when I go to sleep, ‘Lord, if you’re coming down to Toledo Ave tonight, don’t forget to stop by my house.’ But so far I haven’t made the bus,” she adds, laughing. “So each day I wake up and see what kind of trouble I can get into today!”