Boomers Thank Mentors Who Made a Difference

The Person Who Changed My Life

Numerous studies have shown that kids who are guided and cherished by someone important to them typically grow up to be especially resilient as they are buffeted by life's inevitable vicissitudes. We asked Boomers to look back and tell us about the special people who altered their lives for the better. Many people singled out a grandmother as the one who made the biggest difference. Here at ThirdAge, we think that should inspire all of us who are grandparents to value our role more than ever! Teachers were also cited by plenty of people. Here are some of the responses we received.   "My grandmother, because she was a strong, kind, determined woman who weathered an incredibly difficult life, but always had a smile or a hug. I had the sincere honor of spending many summers with her [when I was] growing up. Watching her taught me that kindness truly touches others' lives, humbleness is an amazing strength, and that the glass is always full."  Diana Cosby, 51, Brigantine, New Jersey "My grandmother instilled the gift of curiosity in me at a young age. We went on nature walks through the forests of Maryland where they had a cottage on a lake. If we stumbled on a decaying animal she would show me the parts and talk about how life cycled from decay to new life. As a result when I was struck down with Transverse Myelitis, an auto-immune disease, I found coping easier by just getting curious." Sally Franz, 61, Portland, Oregon
"My maternal grandmother Reni played a very positive role in my life. She encouraged me to go after my dreams, and to believe in my abilities. I learned to be confident enough to set goals, and work towards achieving them. While I may not have succeeded every time, I never viewed failure as a final outcome. To this day, I put energy and enthusiam into a majority of things I do." Lorrie Marsiglio, 63, St. Charles, Illinois "My grandmother lived with us for as long as I can remember. She worked hard her entire life but maintained an easygoing, jolly personality. As a little girl, I would wait for her to come home from work so we could sit in this huge rocking chair, which was just big enough to hold a chubby grandma and a child. When our first grandchild was born, our daughter became ill with brain cancer and died when her son was 14 months old. We took him in and raised him. I have always felt my grandmother was nearby. She gave me the hope that life goes on and we would be okay." Peggy O'Connor, 70, Highland Park, Illinois   "Two people, actually: My middle school football coach, Wiley Wise. He was the single biggest influence on me and my decision to go back to school in my 40's to become a middle school counselor and a coach. The second person was Rose Threlkeld, my 12th-grade English teacher. She changed my life forever. We listened to Shakespeare on records and I discovered that I was an audible learner. This helped me go from B's in high school to almost straight A's in college and in my Master's program."  Rusty May, 48, Mill Valley, California

"That person for sure was my instrumental music teacher, Mario DeCarolis. Mr. D, as we called him was teacher, mentor, father figure, and friend to many of us."   Noreen Braman, 57, Jamesburg, New Jersey

"Al Nelson who taught a course by mail called "How To Write the Non-Fiction Book" is the person who changed my life. I enrolled in the course in 1971 but dropped out when my husband got cancer and died. Six months later I received a note from Mr. Nelson saying he had been impressed with my work, and decided to check on what had happened to me. He re-enrolled me and it was a lifesaver. I finished the book I was working on, "Traveler's Reading Guide," and published it in a 3-volume set of paperbacks. Then it was picked up by Facts on File and I edited two editions for them. Here I am at 92 and just had an article about me on the front page of the Wall Street Journal." Maggy Simony, 92, Cape Canaveral, Florida

"When I attended P.S. 137 in Brooklyn, I was shy and insecure, unwilling to speak or assert myself in class. The first person to single me out for the encouragement I needed was Mrs. Kulyer, my fourth-grade teacher. She took the time to talk to me, draw me out, and share my thoughts about what I might do when I grew up. When Mrs. Kulyer told me I would make a great teacher, a whole world opened up. Years later, I was teaching second grade in a public school in Elmont, Long Island. My good fortune in being befriended by my fourth-grade teacher taught me that the reassurance of a devoted parent might not be enough for a child, especially one passing through the turbulence of preadolescence."  Matilda Cuomo, 80, New York, New York. She is the wife of New York's former governor, Mario Cuomo, and the mother of New York's current governor, Andrew Cuomo. She founded Mentoring USA. This anecdote is an excerpt from her new book, "The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent People Recall Their Mentors."

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