Kathryn Chalavoutis and Gloria Rodriguez sat in the lobby of Rockville Centre’s Maple Pointe Assisted Living center next to a colorful table of mostly pink-accented scarves, each diligently knitting another to add to their collection, which would be sold to support breast cancer care.
Chalavoutis, 86, said she has knitted and crocheted for years, recalling when she would make mittens for her children, ensuring they were tight enough to keep out the snow. She has since moved on to scarves, and the funds raised by selling them will, like last year, go to South Nassau Communities Hospital’s Breast Cancer program. They had raised $150 as of last week after a few days of selling, and last year raised about $1,000.
“It makes you feel good,” she said. “We don’t get paid, we’re residents here, but to give up ourselves is good.”
The two women will continue selling throughout October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or until they run out of scarves. Dani Laino, a case manager at Maple Pointe, said that Breast Cancer fundraising is a tradition for the facility’s seniors each year.
“To have the residents involved means more than you know, not only to the staff but to the residents,” Laino said. “They feel a piece of purpose, they get to help out when sometimes they feel like they can’t help anymore, so they’re just really doing it to help others, which obviously is selfless and admirable in itself.”
In between making scarves the past two years, Maple Pointe’s knitting club, made up of Chalavoutis, Rodriguez, 85, and a few others, took on perhaps their biggest project. Inspired to make an American flag, the duo led the charge, first planning out its intricacies, like how many stitches would be needed and how wide the stripes would be.
Sitting on opposite ends of a table, the two then sowed together the stripes that they had carefully crocheted, and after about three months, it was complete. The finished flag was hung on the second floor in time for Memorial Day, in a room dedicated to the center’s veterans.
Anna Owens and Josephine Gibaldi also helped crochet the flag, but died shortly after it was completed. “They got to see a picture of it while they were in the hospital,” Chalavoutis said, “so they did see the finished product.”
Rose Noroian, a friend of the women, said she was proud of the four women for laboring through the process, calling the flag, which hangs in a frame among photographs of veterans, celestial, magical and mystical.
“Every time I walk by, I salute it,” Noroian laughed. “It is beautiful. We all have things that we want to cherish and this to me was an absolute cherishment.”
Noroian especially appreciated the sign of patriotism because her husband, Jack, was in the National Guard for eight years, and when the Korean War started, he went to get a physical to be cleared to fight for his country. A heart murmur prevented him from getting cleared, Noroian said, so a friend of Jack’s took the physical for him, and he went to Korea, where he served for two years.
“Once you see the flag, you feel at peace,” she said, “because it was made with peace.”
Chalavoutis’s husband was also in the National Guard, and worked with Boy Scouts, and Rodriguez’s husband, Angel, served in the Army as a welder for two years. Chalavoutis also served as a den mother for 10 years in East Meadow, and her son went on to become an Eagle Scout.
“To teach boys to honor the flag, to honor what it stands for is very important,” Chalavoutis said.
Maple Pointe resident Lawrence Rienecker, 90, spent three years in the Navy after joining in 1944, at age 17. He re-enlisted in the Air Force in 1950 and ended up in Korea for four years.
“I was in two wars, so I really like to see the ladies that did a very beautiful job,” Rienecker said. “…I’m very proud of these ladies to do something like that for us fellows.”
Seeing his photo on the wall next to the stars and stripes and his fellow servicemen is something he holds dear. “They say if you pass away, you can keep your pictures here or they give them back to the family,” Rienecker said. “I would like to leave it there with the other veterans if the day comes.”