Volunteer Florence Jarvis acclaimed as 'Outstanding Senior Citizen of 1994'

May 11, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to The Sun

Florence "Flo" Jarvis isn't used to riding in chauffeur-driven vehicles. But on Saturday, the 89-year-old Columbia resident will arrive in a limousine at The Mall in Columbia to be honored as Howard County's "Outstanding Senior Citizen of 1994."

The county's Office on Aging is recognizing Mrs. Jarvis at its annual Salute to Seniors celebration for her work as a volunteer entertaining seniors at Winter Growth Adult Day Care Center in Columbia.

Every Monday morning for the past eight years, Mrs. Jarvis has walked up a hill near her condominium in Kings Contrivance with a suitcase full of sheet music, and taken the bus to Winter Growth, where she plays the organ and conducts sing-alongs.

The trip takes more than an hour and requires her to transfer, sometimes forcing her to arrive a few minutes late. But that doesn't seem to dampen her spirits, says Barbara Bednarzik, director of housing at Winter Growth.

"It's phenomenal," Ms. Bednarzik said. "She bubbles in and bubbles out. She brings a great deal of happiness and life to the center. . . . We value her work here and have transported her many times, but unfortunately, have been unable to find a volunteer who would give her a ride on a regular basis; we are constantly looking."

Winter Growth is just one of the many venues for Mrs. Jarvis' volunteer keyboard talents.

Once every week or two, she accompanies rehearsals of the Golden Girls tap dancers at the Florence Bain Senior Center. She also plays at monthly meetings of the American Association of Retired Persons' local chapter.

Every other week, Mrs. Jarvis plays the piano for seniors at the Owen Brown Place eating-together site in Columbia. She accompanies vocalists, singing groups and other performers at the Florence Bain Center, nursing homes and churches throughout the year.

She refuses payment for these activities.

"Their smiles are enough for me," says Mrs. Jarvis, who has been playing the piano since she was 11. "I look at some seniors who are sick or who have Alzheimer's and I want to make them smile."

Mrs. Jarvis says she has loved the piano since she was a girl in Pemberton, N.J., and her father brought home an upright piano with the hope that all eight of his daughters would play.

"My older sister Rebecca took lessons and then taught me," Mrs. Jarvis says. "I practiced, practiced, practiced."

She recalls first playing in Sunday school, and as her skills increased, often played for her family and friends.

"Boys would pay me with candy bars to play music when I was a schoolgirl," she says.

She also recalls playing background music for silent films in a church hall for $2 -- all the while getting pelted with peanuts in the back of the head by mischievous youngsters. She took up playing the organ as a young woman.

Mrs. Jarvis married, had two children, and helped run her husband's floral business in New Jersey.

It was the organ that helped bring her out of depression when her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter died of influenza in 1955.

Grief-stricken and withdrawn, she was coaxed by her minister to play for a service at the church, where she had been an organist. The music helped release her pent-up emotions, and she began playing once again.

Tragedy struck the family again 26 years ago. An automobile accident in New Jersey killed her husband and left Mrs. Jarvis with severe leg and head injuries, and forced her to close the family business.

"I've done a lot of physical therapy in order to get me to where I am," Mrs. Jarvis says. "They said I would never walk again; I was in a body cast, and I had a head injury. I am so fortunate to have my eyesight and leg."

After moving from New Jersey to Columbia eight years ago to be near her son, Frederick, Mrs. Jarvis has made a new life. She enjoys being close to her family, which includes three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Jarvis said she draws strength from being able to share her gift for music with others.

"I've pushed a lot in my lifetime," she says. "I lost my husband, home and a business, all at the same time. I had to pay hospital bills. Playing for these people has somehow given me extra energy and I hope I can continue to share this with them."

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