St. Luke’s Parish Hall was cool on Friday, providing relief for local seniors who searched for some respite from the sweltering rays of the sun. The energy in the room was celebratory, loud with chatter and laughter. Volunteers for Mutual Concerns’ senior lunch program were busy, depositing paper plates piled high with piping hot meals to the seniors. This particular lunch held greater meaning than the usual bi-weekly gatherings, however, as the program’s director, resident Janette Heurtley, was celebrating her retirement.
She moved to the village 31 years ago and was familiar to most people at the lunch program.
“Quite soon after I came to Sea Cliff I began working as a kitchen volunteer for Mutual Concerns,” Heurtley said, “And then as time went by I was asked if I would take the job as the director.” That was 13 years ago. With the help of the cooks and the volunteers, the team turned out almost 100 meals a week.
Heurtley, a former nurse practitioner, brought her career expertise to the lunch program, which is technically called the “Nutrition and Socialization Program.”
“We encourage people to socialize, and provide transportation for doctors and so on,” she explained. “We have a woman that comes and takes blood pressure once a month and we do counseling.”
And when health assessments roll around, Heurtley can’t help but return to her roots. “Because I’m a nurse practitioner, I often help people understand their medications and have acted sometimes as an advocate,” she said. “If somebody’s going to see a doctor and they’re nervous, we try to get someone to go with them.”
“The lunch program is so important for the senior community, and Janette has nurtured it along,” said Peggie Como, the president of Mutual Concerns. “She’s a real Sea Cliff person. She even said if we run into a problem she’d be here in a heartbeat.”
For Heurtley, caring for the community’s seniors was more than just a job — it was her family. Even in the midst of tending to her husband’s health problems, who suffered a stroke and died three years later in 2015, she never failed to make it to St. Luke’s for lunchtime.
“She was always here, and she always did her job,” Como said.
This vibrancy was something that was so essential to Heurtley’s success as program director, Como said. “Nothing is ever too complicated for her,” she said. “Any type of problem that came up she dealt with, and she knows all these people by name.”
Heurtley said seeing the seniors thrive at lunch over the years helped her power through the pain. “This group was an incredible support to me throughout that, they were just wonderful,” she said. “And I’m absolutely stunned at today’s turnout.”
Mayor Edward Lieberman presented Heurtley with the official village pin at the party. Now that she has two pins Lieberman said she had joked about wearing them as earrings.
Eileen Kunkel, the vice president of Mutual Concerns, said Heurtley’s attention to detail was so precise, “she’d know when someone was missing” from the lunchroom.
“We just try to meet the needs of the community,” Heurtley said humbly, “And the community pays us back in meeting our needs. It becomes sort of a two-way street.”