North Shore Elder Services’ Sarah Tavella is beyond conventional retirement age at seventy-six but for the past three years she has worked twenty hours per week as the Administrative Assistant for North Shore Services’ Money Management Program. In answer to the question, “What do you like about working here?” without a moment’s hesitation and with enthusiasm replies, “EVERYTHING!”
“Financially, I need to be working, but don’t get me wrong, I love working here. Coming to work is pleasurable.”
Sarah is mother to three children, grandmother to five, and great grandmother to nine. The love of her life, Tony, died thirteen years ago at the age of sixty-eight, after thirty-seven years of marriage. She shows me the hologram medal of Tony that she wears on a gold chain around her neck. “I was so blessed with him. My story is a Cinderella story – very romantic.”
Sarah describes herself as a city girl, having grown up in East Boston, where she met Tony who was the corner grocer in her neighborhood. Sarah was a young single working mother of three when unbeknownst to Sarah, she won the heart of Tony. Sarah would shop at Tony’s store and he always found time to strike up a conversation with her. “He wasn’t really my type.” – Or so she thought! She never read his attention as anything more than friendliness; then there was the day that Tony offered to drive her to a transit station on her way to work; next was an invite for coffee together, followed by several more coffee times (which in retrospect is made more telling given Sarah describes herself as someone who doesn’t even like coffee).
When I ask Sarah how she managed raising three children on her own and working to make ends meet she says, “It wasn’t a chore. These children were mine and I never gave it a second thought as to what I needed to do. This was my responsibility and I just did what I had to do.”
“Imagine this single, never married man coming along and falling head over heels for me and willing to marry me with three small children. I don’t know what I did to deserve that man.”
Within a year of their courtship, Tony and Sarah married. Unfortunately the rheumatic fever Tony had as a child left him with heart disease and at the age of thirty-five, he was forced to sell his store due to his weakened health.
Sarah again did what was needed and she left her field of hairdressing to go into the medical field where she worked as a Medical Assistant alongside a group of doctors and surgeons. She supported the household which allowed Tony to go back to school to study accounting and eventually he was employed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Sarah retired at age sixty. Tony’s heart issues were significant, going through five heart surgeries. Upon his death, Sarah moved to Peabody to be closer to family.
When you meet Sarah you know she has “moxie” – some real pizazz. “For over twenty-five years, Tony and I did competitive dancing. We would dance three to four nights a week. I’ve always loved fashion; my favorite era is the 1940s. I was a real bargain shopper at places like Filene’s Basement and I always loved jewelry, even as a young girl.”
I ask Sarah her thoughts on when she might retire again. “I’m just taking one day at a time and asking God to show me his plan. As I said, working here is pleasurable. Firstly, Paul (Executive Director Paul Lanzikos) is superb; he’s amazing. He’s always thinking of what he can do next for his people. He appreciates everyone; that means more than the paycheck. He’s sensitive and gets to know all his employees. His door is always open. They have a gift of hiring the right people. The people here are amazing. Everyone does their best and is a team player. You don’t get that everywhere.”
“For me, I don’t feel old working here. No one is treating me differently than the younger ones. There is no distinction among the workers because of their age. That’s why I enjoy working here, even at my age.”
Sally Zavarella, Program Manager of the Money Management Program, describes Sarah as “a wonderful asset to our Money Management Program. She is especially talented with working on the phone with our clients who are worried and need reassuring. Sarah is so patient with them. I feel very fortunate to have Sarah as the Administrative Assistant in our Program.”
Peter DiIsso, Coordinator of the Money Management Program can’t say enough about how much of a pleasure it is to work with Sarah. “Sarah really loves working at NSES and genuinely cares about the people she deals with.”
With Sarah’s philosophy of doing what you have to do and what you need to do, and with patience and flair, Sarah will continue in her role and North Shore Elder Services is glad to have her!
If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities and employment opportunities at North Shore Elder Services, visit us at https://nselder.org/about-our-volunteers-2/ and https://nselder.org/get-involved/employment-opportunities/