Carol Waldman not only loves old people, but also she loves old things. By day — and some nights — she is the executive director of the Glen Cove Senior Center. In her rare but well-spent spare time, she is an antiques dealer.
While she appreciates the aesthetics of a piece, sometimes it’s the story that appeals to her most. Once Waldman purchased a small wooden box, about playing-card size, decorated with wildflowers, at the Junior League in Roslyn for $15. Then she sold it to a friend, and from there she lost track of it. About a year and a half later, she was at show at the New York Armory, and there was the box, on sale for $38,000.
What’s most interesting, she said, is the possibility that someone would buy it, and eventually — without telling his or her children how much the box was worth. It might end up in a garage sale, once again being offered for $15.
And just as she enjoys the story of older items, she enjoys the stories of older people. As director of the senior center for 16 years, Waldman, 64, cares for the senior population. And not just by ensuring that they have good food to eat and bingo to play, but really caring for them. Whether it’s finding grants to build safer crosswalks, visiting bedridden members or just listening to a story about someone’s day, Waldman advocates for the growing senior population not only in Glen Cove, but also across Long Island and around the state.
When people think of the Glen Cove Senior Center, they think of Waldman. For these reasons and more, the Herald Gazette is proud to name her its first-ever Person of the Year.
Waldman initially wanted to work with young adults and teach college-level English. She was always fascinated with the written word. After reading “Les Misérables” in fourth grade at P.S. 47 — she was a New York City kid — she dreamt up a romantic picture of herself as a writer running salons in Paris. She is eloquent and well-spoken, probably thanks to the poetry of Byron, Keats and Shelley she read while attending Lehman College.
After earning a degree in English literature, she worked for the New York Center for Psychoanalytic Training, but discovered that psychoanalytics was not her calling. Then she put her career ambitions on hold to be the breadwinner so her husband, John, could finish his doctorate in conservation biology. Then she managed a Manhattan antiques shop called Alice’s for about four years. Although she loved the items’ stories, she thought she needed a more meaningful career.
So she taught middle school English in Corona, Queens, until she gave birth to her first child when she was 32. She continued to teach night classes in English as a Second Language, for adults.
That, Waldman believes, was when she developed her love for senior citizens. “There was something about working with older people that just touched me, just moved me,” she recalled. “I loved how motivated they were, I loved their gratitude.” She knew that whatever she did next, she wanted it to be with older generations.
Waldman and her family discovered Sea Cliff through one of her friends from the psychoanalytic institute. They moved there in 1991 with the notion of managing an old hotel, and fell in love with the area. With the little money they had, they purchased a small house — an antique itself, over 100 years old. They still live there today.
Waldman began working part-time as the program coordinator of the senior center, where she had the chance to create fun and cultural activities for the members. The job was perfect for her, a lover of art, music and dance.
“It almost doesn’t sound real when I try to describe Carol,” said Marilyn Brenner, former president of the Glen Cove Senior Activity Generational Endowment, or SAGE, Foundation, a charity that raises funds for senior center programs. Waldman created the foundation in 2005. “I have never seen anyone who loves and cares for the people that she serves more than she does,” Brenner said.
As program coordinator, Waldman got to know the seniors and their needs. In 2001 she became the center’s executive director, and in 2002 she went back to school part-time at Hofstra University, and earned a master’s in gerontology to build a stronger foundation. The degree also allows her to do counseling and case management.
She appears to be a perfect fit for her job. Sherri Meaghar, the center’s social worker, calls her “Jewish Mother Theresa.” “I really have never met anybody like her before,” Meaghar said. “She just cares so deeply about people … She has so much warmth. I’ve learned so much from working with her.”
While Waldman is often described as compassionate, she can also be tough. Meaghar has seen her describe the center’s programs with passion — and then vehemently advocate for funding from the County Legislature.
By all accounts, Waldman cares not only for seniors, but also for everyone around her. Several people teared up as they talked about her. “She teaches me something every day,” said her daughter, Laura. “I feel beyond lucky to have her as my mom. She’s just the wisest, kindest, most thoughtful person.”
Although her job is technically a political appointment, Waldman has no political affiliation, and has worked with a number of city administrations. “She’s a very, very special person,” said Mayor Reggie Spinello. “There are many stories that I’ve gotten from people … they found a home with Carol.
“I noticed right away there was something special about her,” said her husband, John, who met her when they were both seniors at Lehman College. “It’s all genuine. It’s who she is at the core. She’s just a phenomenally generous, compassionate and intelligent person.”
Working in a field on the border of life and death, Waldman and her staff lose friends each year — and grieving is an important part of the job. “It’s OK to grieve, and she kind of taught me that,” said Laurie Huenteo, Waldman’s secretary, recalling occasions of hugging and crying together in her office. “That it’s important to really acknowledge the feelings when they’re there.”
One of Waldman’s friends is the former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Glen Cove, Betsy Simpson. When Simpson’s husband died two years ago, she opened up to Waldman. “It made a huge positive difference to know I had somebody who knew what I was going through that I could just talk to as a friend, but who had expertise,” Simpson recalled. “She’s a very giving person, and that has always inspired me to be a better person. And there aren’t a lot of people that can say, ‘Well, this person inspires me to be a better me, and this is a person I know.’”
In November 2016, Waldman organized a day-long seminar on aging at Hofstra University, titled “Shifting the Perspective: Aging and Creativity,” a joint effort of Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies and the senior center. She created the programs, invited the speakers and raised the money to put the event together. The event was a success, no doubt because it was a physical manifestation of her passion — to raise awareness and educate the public about the growing population of seniors.
These days, she also continues to pursue her love of antiques. She and John have a business called the Back Roads Collection, with an inventory they keep in a massive barn behind their farmhouse in Connecticut.
Waldman plans to stay in her position at the senior center as long as she can. Then maybe, when she has the time, she said, she’ll go back to school and study for a doctorate. Do some traveling. And add to her own story.