BROWSE BY:     Title Number Subject Creator Digital Content

Interview with Irene White, May 8, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

pdf icon Get PDF Version
Interview with Irene White, May 8, 2006
May 8, 2006
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: White, Irene. Interviewer: Zarbock, Paul. Date of Interview: 5/8/2006. Series: SENC Volunteers. Length: 48 minutes.


Zarbock: You volunteered with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's Randall Library. Today is the 8th of May, 2006. [ tape glitch ] Citizen's Center here in [ tape glitch ] North Carolina. Your interviewee today is Irene White. Good afternoon, Ms. White, how are you?

Irene White: I'm fine, Paul. How are you today?

Zarbock: I'm doing well. Irene, what we're doing is a videotape sequence for a part of the library called Special Collections. Special Collections are whatever the people want to collect and what we're really interested in is drawing on the background of some volunteers. So could we start off, tell me a little bit about youth and early beginnings, just a little something so we can [ tape glitch ].

Irene White: Well, I was born in Connecticut and I was raised in New York. I had two parents, Mom and Dad, as everybody. I have a brother. Ah, normal life, I guess, you know, little bangs and bruises, fights [ tape glitch ] falling [ tape glitch ] and doing things you shouldn't. Ah, I went to school, grammar school, high school. I wanted to go to college but, at that time, uh... the only girls at that point who used to go to college were if you were going to be a teacher or a nurse, which I did not want to do. So what I wanted to do, my father didn't approve of so I kinda ended up just going into business. As weird, as strange as it sounds, I wanted to be a mortician and that was not for girls, basically. It was men that did it. I wanted to do architect, that was another man's field, so I was told, no, you can't do that. But my father built houses so I think it kinda fell in the wrong-- that's what I would have liked to do. So I ended up uh... going into business, working in the office, doing secretarial work. Met my husband, got married, and uh... had four kids, three girls and a boy, raised them, did a lot of volunteering with them, you know, boy scouts, girl scouts, you know, did the brownies, the girl scouts. Was very active with the PTA at that time. At that time, it was the Parents-Teachers Association. Now they've changed it. I think it's PTO to make it, you know, politically correct. And uh... did the church things, you know, just when you get used to one name, somebody has to come along with a better name but it still basically involved in volunteering. I uh... volunteered with my daughter. One of my daughters was in the uh... Drum and Bugle Corps through the fire department. So uh... traveled with them on the east coast and uh... liked that. Uh.. kids grew up, my husband had had an accident and I ended up in the house taking care of him.

Zarbock: Could you tell us a little about-- you mentioned an accident off camera.

Irene White: Yeah.

Zarbock: What took place?

Irene White: He was in heavy construction. He did a lot of great places, he worked- and he worked in the Russian Mission, and he worked in a building called The Upside Down Building. That was interesting. They built it from the ground up so the first floor would become the 15th floor. They were hydraulically raised up and it was quite interesting to see it. It's a company that worked out of Europe and they brought the technique over here and he worked on that and it was really...

Zarbock: Is this building in New York?

Irene White: It's in New York. It's the UN Ambassador Building for the Russians, where they stay, it was their home and it was quite interesting to see. You know, you get so many floors up and they had problems, you know, the concrete wouldn't cure right and they have to bring down that floor and redo it, but he did a lot of heavy construction. He worked on a building owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' husband and he did bridge work and uh... heavy construction, highways and uh... he ended up putting sewers in and he had had an accident. He fell down a manhole, which kinda finished his uh... livelihood and uh... made him basically handicapped. And uh.. with that, I became a caretaker in the house and uh... we had a hurricane that did damage to our house and having a two floory-- two floor house was kinda hard taking care of him so uh... we decided to get a house on one ground and our kids, at that point, had been grown and moved out and had, you know, flew the coop, empty nest syndrome had hit us. So uh... folded a map and said where we goin' where the sun is and the snow isn't and we ended up in Wilmington, North Carolina. And uh... _______ with me for ten years and he had poor health problems between losing his sight and his legs were amputated. Uh... I think God decided it was best to take him home and he did that. So uh...

Zarbock: You indicated off camera that, following the accident, which he had fallen in this tube, he was brought out, rescued, in effect.

Irene White: Right, by the fire department.

Zarbock: And seemed to be doing all right.

Irene White: Yeah.

Zarbock: But then slowly you began to notice, what? There was trouble walking...

Irene White: Yeah, he was working on a construction site, a building, and uh... he was in the dirt and walking and they realized he couldn't get out of the way of the big trucks and the tractors and stuff and his-- he was endangering himself plus the guys in backhoes and stuff and uh... you know, you feel just-- he just felt aches and pains. He just figured he was slowing down because we never knew, at that time, his body was going into diabetic shock and neuropathy. So uh... he landed up bedridden from '82/'83. His first daughter got married in '83. After that, he more or less didn't walk any more. So uh.. he was bedridden and I became the caretaker and uh... I bounced him around, you know, kinda slid him out of the wheelchair a couple of times, thinking I had him and next thing he'd be on the floor and thank goodness the fire department come and help me get him back into bed and the fire department was really great up in New York as well as down here in Wilmington when I did silly little things like letting him slip away. So uh... after he passed away, I figured I had all this time, I'm going to go back to volunteering. And that's how I got involved with the volunteer program. I uh... originally started out in New Hanover Hospital. I was working with the senior program called Lifewise and uh... the new president came in to New Hanover Hospital and he kinda decided he wanted other programs for children and different things and he eliminated the seniors' program. I then went with uh... the RSVP program, working with Cheryl Hoffman and, from there...

Zarbock: What is RSVP?

Irene White: It's Retired Senior Volunteer Program. So uh... basically, people that, you know, over 55 have free time just have to volunteer. They basically ask you to volunteer maybe one day a week, four hours. That's, you know...

Zarbock: Doing what, Irene?

Irene White: Ah, there is, oh, so many places you can be. You can be in the hospital, the library, you can deal with children, you can go to the schools, do reading programs, uh... they also do Meals On Wheels where they take meals to the handicapped. Not handicapped but the people that can't get out. There's a lot with those. We've got people that are knitting hats for the new babies, the neonatal. Uh... there's a group that are making blankets. There's another group of women that make caps for the people out in the street, the homeless people. Uh.. there's a sewing group that makes little, small little pillows for women who have had breast problems and shoulder problems and things. Uh... there's a nutrition site here on-- here in Wilmington, right here in this building on College Row where we feed some people and we're home delivering meals or taking it to them. Uh... we also have dancing classes, craft classes, computer classes. Uh... our RSVP program here also does the taxes free for people, IVITA, which is Volunteer Information Tax Assistant. So, every year, from January 1st 'til April 15th, or if there's an extension to the 16th, we do free taxes for all the people. I help Cheryl. We train people, they have to go to classes, they have to-- required to pass the test by the state and they do taxes for our seniors here in New Hanover. We do it for the seniors as well as students or people who can't afford to do them and it's all...

Zarbock: Ms. White, what specifically do you do here?

Irene White: Shuffle a lot of paperwork. (laughs) I do a lot of Cheryl's work. Uh... when someone-- if you came in and said you wanted to volunteer, you would fill out an application and, once we found a place or a site where you would like, we put that into a folder and your hours are recorded each month and we've got maybe seven, 800 people a month that just record their hours. At the end of a year or once a year, they have a great big luncheon for the-- for volunteers and you get to see people that you might have seen on different places, either in the hospital, the library, and we all get to see everybody and there's awards given and you find out you're not the only person. You figure, oh, I'm doing four hours, you'll find somebody that's maybe doing 18, 20, 30 hours a week. And some people, it gets you out, it keeps your mind sharp and you see what's going out there. It's uh... interesting. I've met a lot of great people. I've, you know, and myself being in a wheelchair, I've had some people really be surprised because I'm talking on the phone and they don't realize I'm in a wheelchair. I had one incident, oh, about ten years ago when I was in the hospital and I was talking to this man and he was interested in coming to the meetings and he says, "Well, how will I know you?" I says, "Well, I have blonde hair." He says, "Oh, all women have blonde hair when you're in the south." I said, "So I'm a large size woman." He says, "Well, that comes with age." And never mentioned that I was in a wheelchair, it just-- I automatically take it as part of my life and uh... finally, after talking to him, he came that day and he was surprised. He says, "You didn't tell me you were in a wheelchair." I said, "Where does that change who I am?" And the man's attitude kind of changed from thinking I was normal to now he qualified me as a handicapped person and I'm a very, I don't know, sassy or snappy person. I says, "I didn't know handicapped people have problems," I said, "I think you've got more mental problems than I do," and just walked away. And I think everybody said the look on his face was, you know, you have to take people as people. You can't take 'em with handicapped. It's uh... bad label that people have given us.

Zarbock: Can you drive your own car?

Irene White: I drive my own car. I'm fortunate enough, I do drive, you know?

Zarbock: So you...

Irene White: It takes a little longer getting there, that's all. I just can't walk safely and that's it. I've had seven hip replacements and surgery done on my hands and it goes back to, I guess, silly things I did as a kid, you know, who can't climb a tree and fall out and break your leg? You can't jump off the swing and break an ankle? You know, so they do catch up with you eventually, you know? But it didn't help me uh... not wanna help people. I had had a mother who had had a very bad accident and she had spent almost two years in the hospital, she had been very badly burned, and uh... she learned to, I think, at that point, to have respect for nurses and people that volunteered with the hospital and she said, "You can never give back what you get when people volunteer." So, with that, then I landed up, I think it was something that I was raised with and uh... she would-- she was involved with the church when I grew up so I think it's something that's maybe inborn or you see it, you just-- it's there, you know?

Zarbock: Have you found that to be true? That you get more than you give?

Irene White: Oh, yeah, yeah, uh huh. I think so. I have met wonderful groups of people, you know, and uh... if you're nice to people, people will be nice to you. If they're not gonna be nice, nothing you can do is gonna change their attitude, you know? With, like I said, maybe in a wheelchair-- wheelchair, people automatically back off but if I'm talking on the phone, I don't have to tell 'em that and I don't make it a part of my life. That, "Oh, yeah, I'm handicapped, boo hoo-hoo." There's people out there with worse problems. My husband was handicapped and he said, his motto was, "I met a man that had no shoes and I felt sorry for him. Then I met a man that had no feet." So you just learn to live what God gave us and uh... he had a wacky sense of humor, I had a wacky sense of humor. I think that helped us through it. We knew people in construction who, the husband and wives that had problems with construction accidents and they couldn't handle it. So it's, you know, we often said, you know, God gives us what we can handle and uh...

Zarbock: I'll come back to your volunteerism in a minute but I wanted to pick up on something else. How did you and your husband meet?

Irene White: I was goin' out with his uncle. (laughs)

Zarbock: With his uncle?

Irene White: With his uncle.

Zarbock: Ah hah.

Irene White: Yeah. I uh...

Zarbock: This is in New York City.

Irene White: In New York City, uh huh. I worked in New York City and uh... I'd go from Queens into Manhattan on the train and his uncle-- I knew his uncle from the people that lived upstairs in my parents' house, it was my brother's godparents. So he was always there, always knew him and uh... we just ended up traveling together back and forth every morning on the train and stuff and uh... the company I was working for, a finance company, one girl said, "Oh, let's get everybody together, let's go out one night." I said, "Okay." So we landed up goin' to a jazz place and uh... at that time, I was goin' with Paul and uh... we landed up going and uh... I got there that night and all the other girls' dates had cancelled out. I said, "Well, this is interesting." I'm here with my boyfriend, we weren't good, serious boy-- we were just good acquaintances. He was a little bit older than I was. And uh... during the night, this gentleman came over and he acted surprised. At that time, I didn't know it was set up but it was his uh... nephew, my husband, and uh... I landed up bein' with Roger that night and uh... that Monday, Paul said, "Roger really enjoyed being with you. Would you want to go out with him again?" I said, "Sure. There's nothing going on with you and me." He was about six, maybe ten years older than I and the family said, "Oh, she's too young, you're too old" so it was-- it was a relationship that I don't think it was ever gonna develop into anything. So I landed up goin' with his-- with Roger and landed up gettin' married and, you know, so uh... it just landed up-- was the right, you know, the right place at the right time and uh... we just-- we used to kid about it all the years that he would come up to his uncle's house, I never knew him. Never met him. Never met him. I worked in uh... I worked as a cashier in the A&P, which is Atlantic and Pacific, which was a supermarket, and his grandmother and his uncle would shop there every Saturday morning and I'd go up there occasionally because they're a friend of ours and never met him in all those years. And so it was a family I already knew and they knew me so it wasn't strange that, you know, goin' into-- 'cause I was already welcomed into his...

Zarbock: But your description of your late husband suggests to me that he was a man of considerable depth.

Irene White: Ah, he was a very quiet person.

Zarbock: Thoughtful?

Irene White: Thoughtful, yeah, mm hm. Very concerned about people, wouldn't hurt anybody and I found out later and I kinda knew that-- well, he said, whatever he said, it was his word. If he said, "I'll be there," he'll be there. You didn't have to ask him twice. He made a commitment. And I think that's somethin' that I liked about him. If he said he was gonna be there at 7:00, he was there at seven. He wasn't there at 7:30 or whatever. He was true-- time was very important to him, you know, and uh... you could depend on him, you know? I've got one daughter, time doesn't mean anything, you know? If she had to be at work at 8:00, well, "I got there 10 minutes after eight, 20 after eight, don't worry about it," where he would be there at quarter to eight, 7:30. He would make sure he was there ahead of time and I'm the same way so-- and I've got one daughter that's the same way. She'll make sure, you know, if you got to be somewheres at eight, and you not knowing where you're goin', she'll go the day before, the same as I will, to make sure you know where you're goin' so you get there on time.

Zarbock: Now, you said you were the mother of four children?

Irene White: Mm hm.

Zarbock: All of whom are married?

Irene White: All-- they're all-- no, my son's not married yet. (laughs) I don't know about him. (laughs)

Zarbock: Okay. The three daughters...

Irene White: Three daughters. Uh huh. Are married.

Zarbock: How many grandchildren do you have?

Irene White: I've got nine. Yeah.

Zarbock: Any volunteerism there?

Irene White: My one daughter-- I think, yeah, they all have. My one daughter was with uh... in New York, she was very active with the PTA and the soccer with her son. My other daughter in Richmond, she's very active with her husband in stuff; volunteering in the schools and stuff. And my other daughter, she was active with the PTA and stuff and then, you know, we have problems in life. That marriage has dissolved just recently and she had to go back to work. So uh... you know, but basically we were fortunate that they all stayed home with their kids and my son, you know, he just is enjoying his life, you know? He enjoys cooking and he's a chef and he's got the best of two worlds. He loves his chef business and uh... he loves skiing and he loves mountain biking so he's out in Colorado, he's got the best. He's got the ski in the winter, he can ski before he goes to work and he goes in at 2:00/3:00. He's already tired because he's skiing half the day. Now he's changed. He's, you know, switching. He's working mornings and he's biking in the afternoon so he's happy with his life and uh... that's all I ask, you know? Don't do a job if you're not happy in it because it uh... comes out with your people around you. If you're not happy, your attitude is bad and the people around you are just as grumpy as you are and uh... my husband had seen the same thing and I've seen it, you know? If you're not happy, get out.

Zarbock: One of the things that other volunteers have told me, Ms. White, and I wonder if this has been your experience, the other volunteers have said frequently that they volunteered and they knew how to do (a), (b) and (c) but, once they became a volunteer and did (a), (b) and (c), they also learned how to do (d), (e) and (f). They added to whatever their experience and their skill level was. Have you found this to be...

Irene White: Right. I have, yeah. When I was working, I was a office manager or they used to call us a Gal Friday. You had to write the letter, stamp the letter, mail the letter and make sure everything went out and you did billing. So I had enough office experience uh... so I came in with a lot of knowledge. Right now, my challenge, and I really feel that I am physically, mentally challenged, is computers. Don't like 'em, hate them, I think they're taking a lot away from people and I think...

Zarbock: What is it they're taking away from people?

Irene White: People nowadays forget how to talk to people. They type them. Their mannerism stinks. They couldn't say hello and they just don't know anything. I was involved with the school system. I was a teacher's aide and the first thing I realized where modern science was killing us is they came out with the digital liquid watches that would just print out. It was a, you know, the sevens and the eight, you know, regular printout and the kids did not know the difference between a.m. and p.m. because the clocks did not print a.m. and p.m. and it took us a long time to get the kids. They'd look at their watch and another thing I've got them, if it was 12:15 or 25 after, which is a quarter, you would say it's-- no, a quarter is 15 minutes after. So you would say it's 12:15 or quarter after 12. They would write 12:25 because the only quarter they knew was money wise. They didn't know it was 15, 30, 45. And it took a long time to get them to realize that 12:15 was 15 minutes after and 12:25...

Zarbock: That's amazing.

Irene White: ...was a quarter after. It took a long-- it took us a lot-- we weren't working with slow children. It was just they were more interested in money and things. They couldn't separate it. And then they couldn't understand a.m. from p.m. So we finally got them to realize (a), a.m. is a new day. It's the beginning of the day and p.m., you've passed half the day and now you're going towards the evening. So it's p.m. So we finally, you know, and the teacher that I was with, he says, "These kids are in big trouble and it's gonna get worse." And I really think he's right. It did get worse and, at that time, they were just starting to come out with computers and the teacher said, "We're gonna lose them. They're gonna sit on their butts and just talk to computers and not have any more communication and it's gonna be a problem," and I really think it is. I see it with my own grandchildren if they come here and visit. "Well, go outside and play." "Why? We wanna sit home, do the computer." I says, "I don't have a computer. I don't have those games." I said, "I have something called fresh air. Out." And they get annoyed. I had uh.. grandkids here one year for the summer and uh... they now they didn't-- they were annoyed because they had the computer, I wouldn't let them play on it and uh... they decided, oh, well, Monday, we can go to McDonald's, Tuesday, we go to Hardee's, and Wednesday we can do this. I said, "No, no, no, not in my lifetime. We eat meals here," and they were shocked. And by the end of the summer, they kinda liked it. My granddaughter learned how to take a carrot that might have been that long, by the end of the night, it was down to here but she just thought it was great to peel carrots and potatoes. And I says, "We'll decide, there's four of us, we'll decide what night you wanna eat and you can-- Bradley can pick his meal, Shaun can pick his meal, and we'll go to the store and we'll make meals that way" and they learned to like it because they learned they were growing up now. Because of the Mom working, there was a lot of fast food, and we sat and we talked together and that's another thing we've lost, you know? Kids nowadays, I don't know, they pick up, they go out with their friends and there's no more family life. And I think we've caused our own problems.

Zarbock: What about, when you're talking about chatting and conversation, how much of that goes on here at the center? Do people pause and take time to talk with each other?

Irene White: Uhm... I think they do. I think, like, the lady, the seniors, the ladies, the elderly ladies that are crocheting and knitting, they sit and they can talk. I don't know how much talking goes on during the painting class, you know, but I do know that bridge class, they're quiet. When they have bridge going on, you hear a pin drop, that strictly is a quiet room. Uh.. you hear people talking in the cafeteria when they serve lunch. There's always talking. You see women laughing and kidding around when they're coming out of the exercise class or the tap class so I think...

Zarbock: I'm sorry, what did you call?

Irene White: Tap class. Tap dancing.

Zarbock: What is...

Irene White: They are-- is a group of women, they do tap. They're Golden Tappers, they call themselves, and uh... they kid around and giggle and laugh and stuff so there's always a group coming out of here, I think. On the whole, I think people talk here. Just coming into the center, the information people are willing to give you information, what's going on, and they'll let you know and stuff. It's uh... I think it's an active center. We've got dances at night, you know? It's a good group.

Zarbock: I'm going to look for a social boundary here. Ms. White, are there people that have tried to volunteer and just didn't work out? Or are there people who have said, "I wouldn't volunteer if you..."

Irene White: I think so.

Zarbock: "...put a gun to my head."

Irene White: I think so, yeah. I think so. I know, like, I'm on a special program with Ms. Hoffman that uh... I call people that they maybe only work one day or two days a month on different sites and they'll call and say, "Well, I've put in a lot of time, I've put in, like, eight hours this month," and I'm saying, "Well, that was nice." And then one lady said, "Well, how many hours do you put in?" I said, "We're not interested in what I put in," I said, "We're more interested in what you put in," and we thank them because four hours is very important to us compared to someone might put 40, 50 hours.

Zarbock: About how many hours do you put in a week?

Irene White: Uh... a week? I don't know. I usually run about 150 hours a month. I'm very involved. (laughs) I, I do a lot of paperwork and stuff. I'm out five days a week in an office somewheres and then Cheryl [ tape glitch ] where I am now with Muscular Dystrophy, they have paperwork. I'll end up working. Another lady from domestic violence, if she has...

Zarbock: Whoa, whoa. How many different organizations do you touch?

Irene White: I've been through a lot. (laughs) I've-- I was with New Hanover Hospital, I was with Cape Fear Hospital, I was with Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. I've done some help with uh.. a lady through domestic violence who I met through the hospital and she changed over. Uh... I work with Wendy Esposito here on special events for dances and stuff, with the uh... the students from-- the uh... geriatrics and stuff, _________ to that. And then I work with Cheryl on taxes and I do my regular work so uh... it's a little bit here and you learn and you meet-- I, like I said, I've met a group of really great women and stuff, you know? Occasionally, you see some men around but the majority of time are the women and stuff and uh...

Zarbock: Just to get to know you a little bit better, I'm going to ask a very difficult question. Maybe unanswerable. Of the various organizations and the various groups within the organizations with whom you've worked, how would you rank them? What is your-- what do you like the best and what would you-- well, I'm gonna say it, what would you like the least?

Irene White: Like the least?

Zarbock: Best friend, worst friend type-thing.

Irene White: Hm. Like the least. Really haven't liked the least in any of them. I'm really very happy. Each one is different. Uh... in the senior citizen center here, with the RSVP, you're meeting people that are your age, 55, 65, 70 and 80. With muscular dystrophy, you're meeting people from six years old on because a lot of our clients are born with muscular dystrophy so you're meeting them as clients. Uh.. you get very involved, very heavily involved with the fire department. I don't but my boss does, through the fire department for lockups, uh... for boot drives and uh... with muscular dystrophy, we're in, you know, we do events in South Carolina, North Carolina, so it's ongoing. It's a 12-month, every day, every, every week, it's something new that's comin' up. We either lock up or boot drives or, or selling shamrocks and stuff and it's packing up packs to get these out to different people.

Zarbock: You know, years from now, when this videotape is being seen, they may not understand what you're talking about lock up. What is a lock up?

Irene White: Lock up is an event through muscular dystrophy. We would call somebody in the business field and we're asking them to please be a jailbird. They're called jailbirds. And you-- and that jailbird are gonna volunteer maybe an hour asking friends to bail you out and I would say, "Paul, come on, they're gonna lock me up, bail me out for $5, $10," and you say, "Okay, Irene," and maybe with a little bit of luck, I may raise $100, yet somebody else who has more personality and really has more friends may raise $1,000 and this money is collected once a month in their town. We do uh... 12 events, we do a month, each month we do...

Zarbock: One person each month?

Irene White: Uh... each county, like, we'll do Kinston, we'll do Goldsboro, we've done Wilmington. Because Wilmington is so big, we have two events in Wilmington because you cannot get from one end of Wilmington to the other end in an hour so we split it up. We do one end down by the river and then another end down here at uh... College Road. And uh...

Zarbock: I interrupted your train of thought, sorry.

Irene White: Yeah. So uh... and those people-- and that money is put into a major corporate and, with that, we send kids to camp, there's a special camp for children with muscular dystrophy with their-- they're not labeled muscular dystrophy. They're a child. They get away from their mom and dad and they're with kids who have muscular dystrophy. They're not like the odd kid, you know? There's a kid in the wheelchair, you're like us, and they say, "Oh, there's a kid in a wheelchair, look at them." A good percent of them are in a wheelchair and they look forward to that and we've seen so many of them, you know, who'll be here this year may not be here next year because the disease has taken their life. Or we'll hear of some new invention or something that has made it better for them so that's with muscular dystrophy. There's also we have a drive called fill the boot where the firemen go out and be at a major intersection and will collect money and that money then, too, is turned over to muscular dystrophy. And it's uh... something that's been here for years and years, you know? You've got the Shriners and you've got muscular dystrophy and the ____________ through the church and stuff so these are organizations that aren't just fly-by-night. They've got well established names and...

Zarbock: Ms. White, have you ever worked with cancer survivors or cancer patients?

Irene White: Uhm... no. It's too close to home. My husband lost ____________ to cancer and uh.. it's uh... too close. You get too involved and, like, with my husband and his accident and he was diabetic, everybody says, "Why don't you wanna work with diabetes?" Because I think-- I know some of it but I don't know enough knowledge and you get to the point, I've had too many negative things and I don't wanna scare people by saying, "Well, this could happen, that could happen, this could happen." Uh... a person with diabetes does have a chance of having a hand or something amputated because of the problems with diabetes. A good percent of diabetics lose their sight and you don't wanna go into something like that saying, "Well, yeah, sure, you're not gonna lose your sight," 'cause then you're giving out the bad information. So I back off from problems that I've had, you know, between the diabetes and the cancer in the family. I leave that to people who know the right things to say. I don't want to uh...

Zarbock: But you're also adding to an interesting life and an interesting day by going somewhere where you don't know much and you're learning while you're doing.

Irene White: Right. Mm hm. See, now, my husband had uh... neuropathy, which is a form of muscle problems so I am involved and I have seen what can happen with the loss of muscles because of his accident, even though muscle uh... MDA is muscle problems, it's a different form. With uh... MDA, there's 43 diseases that you can get from muscular dystrophy. It affects the, you know, it's also known-- a lot of people have a form of muscular dystrophy which everybody knows as the Babe Ruth, ALS is part of muscular dystrophy. It's taken on its own name as ALS. So all diseases do but, unless you're a doctor and you know exactly how to address people, I don't go there. I can say I've seen the results, what's happened with people with diabetes and I know what can happen, but I don't have the right to preach and tell you what to do. When my husband became a diabetic, we had gone up to ____________ clinic in Boston and, at that time, they said, "Oh, you didn't tell us he was that old." I said, "You had all the information." She says, "No, right now, we're only dealing with juvenile diabetes" and uh... we came back home to New York feeling very, you know, like, what is left to us, for us? Since then, a lot more has come out, you know, with diabetes and the problems that it causes but, when he became diabetic, it was strictly a child's disease. So-- with each disease, there are different organizations getting involved in them, you know, but uh... I find I'm really happy with uh... the senior program because you meet people and uh... upbeat and stuff and uh...

Zarbock: How do you handle your frustrations? You must have some?

Irene White: Oh, yeah. I go home and yell at the dog. (laughs) She just walks away like one of the kids, you know? I just, you just go home and say, you know, it's another day and you try to let it go but it does and it bothers you and you go home and think, well, I could have done this, I could have done that and you just...

Zarbock: Characteristically, what time are you here in the morning?

Irene White: Uhm... when I'm at the seniors' center, I could be here anywheres from, usually, like 9:30/10:00.

Zarbock: Until?

Irene White: Oh, during tax season, I'm here from about 10 to five. That's twice a week. So I, I'm fortunate with the people that I volunteer with, I can float. I'll be-- one day, I might be with Cheryl-- basically, I'm with Cheryl, who's my boss here for RSVP. I do a lot of her paperwork and stuff. But if they need somebody on the phones, I'll answer the switchboard. If they need somebody up on the front desk, I can do the desk so...

Zarbock: You're here two days a week?

Irene White: I'm here January, February, March and April, I'm here twice a week.

Zarbock: Okay.

Irene White: And then, when things slow down, I just go back to Fridays but, if they need somebody to fill in, I come in and I fill in. I'm working also with the emergency management for hurricanes so, right now, we're trying to get our stuff caught up and get into the databases because hurricane season starts June 1st so...

Zarbock: What do you do with the other hours in the week?

Irene White: I don't have any. (laughs) I really don't know. I just, just keep going. You just-- one thing leads into another, you know?

Zarbock: Recreation. What do you do for recreation?

Irene White: I don't.

Zarbock: Recreation and entertainment.

Irene White: I don't. I don't have any recreation. My recreation is my volunteering. I can bring that home at night and I, you know, they'll say, "Did you see this on television?" I says, "Well, the television goes on when I come in the house and it goes off at night when I go to bed but, as far as seeing the program, I don't. I hear it." I think a lot has gone-- with my husband, he listened to the books on the blind, so I think I've just learned to hear more than see it. I can do paperwork and have the television-- it's just that there's some sound in the house. Uhm... my dog, she gets up 7/7:30, she comes to the bed, I see her, she goes out and she'll stay out 'til I go to bed, maybe 12/1:00 in the morning. So, you know, when I come home at 5:00, she'll just, you know, do her jumping around when I'm there and I'll feed her and she'll go back outside. So it's just, you learn to live with what you have. And it's still-- a lot of people are still same thing, handicapped. They back off, they don't, you know, they just don't see past that. And I've learned from experience, I don't want people to feel out of place or they don't know how to handle handicapped people so I find a-- not that I wanna be but I really find my best company is myself. I'm a loner, you know, and uh... had friends in New York. We were great friends and stuff and uh... once I got in a wheelchair, I noticed they felt uncomfortable and stuff. It's just-- so you just learn to accept that. It's, you know, it's part of life. People don't know how to handle handicapped people or they just-- I've had experience, you know, you see-- and I feel sometimes going shopping and stuff and kids will, "What's wrong with that lady?" and parents will say stupid things and it scares the kids, "Oh, that's 'cause she didn't listen to her mother," or "'Cause she didn't do things," and you feel like saying, "Don't do this to kids. That scares them. They think because..."

Zarbock: And you're guilty of something?

Irene White: Right. It makes them feel like, you know, "Oh, she didn't listen to her mother," or "Maybe she did something bad," and you don't do that to kids because it scares them, you know? I'd much rather say, "What happened to you? Did you have an accident? Were you born like that?" And people scare kids that way and it's a shame, you know? And they just feel, you know, "Oh, don't go near her," like, you know, I don't have a disease that's not vibrating all over if you touch me, you're not gonna get what I have. And uh... we have come a long way, though, in the last, you know, 15/17 years. We have come a long way. Kids now see more people in wheelchairs. We had an incident in our family. Uhm... my grandson was, I think, first grade in school and they were going to a nursing home to sing for Christmas and this one little girl couldn't go and uh... they asked her why and the mother said, "I don't want her seeing people in nursing homes. I don't want her seeing people in wheelchairs." That was horrible. Yet my grandson went and he found a couple people and the teacher didn't know that his grandparents, that my husband and I both had been in wheelchairs and he says, "So? It's a grandma. It's somebody's mommy," and he went over there and talked to them and it didn't bother him. It's 'cause he had grown up with it. He knew it. And now you see people nowadays, you notice they're out more. The world is accepting more people in wheelchairs and with the uh... you know, Disability Act and stuff, I think it's gotta be made more available. And I notice in the stores too, now, for awhile, when I would go over to our main mall, there were certain stores I couldn't get into. They were not wheelchair accessible and uh... eventually, you know, we'll conquer the world. (laughs) We'll all be rolling in wheelchairs eventually. But it's what you put out is how you, you know, look at it and stuff.

Zarbock: Have you noticed any change, administratively or legally or any direction, in volunteerism between where you are now and where you were when you started? Have things changed? Or have people changed? Or have opportunities changed?

Irene White: Hm... no, people that I-- basically I just call it work, work with have accepted me and stuff. Uh... I know when I went to one place, they were a little nervous. They didn't think I could do the work and stuff and they were surprised I could do it and I could do more. Or I started with Cheryl, you know, she was a little concerned but now she's been able to help me. As you can see, I've got my own table, she's accepted me and we've been here 10 years and she's got-- you know, Friday morning, my card table's here. She knows I'm gonna be here and I can work with it and stuff. And uh... the majority of people I find are really great, you know? ___________ over at muscular dystrophy, she's got me set up in my own little space to accommodate me and other people can sit there, too, so it's not like they've had to do too much adjustments, you know? But it's uh... everybody I've been with I've been really happy with. Like I said, I've met some good people and some friends and some people that, "Oh, yeah, she's in a wheelchair," and they'll walk away. Like, okay, that's your problem and stuff and yeah, I've been behind a desk and stuff and people don't even know I was in a wheelchair. We've got uhm... dances up at the senior center here and one lady came up, she said, "I don't know you were in a wheelchair. What happened?" I said, "I was in a wheelchair..." and she never knew it because you're basically at seat level and nobody would realize it because I'm a big person so I guess I got a high part of the wheelchair behind me but uh... you know, I don't let it bother me. And if I can't do something, well, I'll find something else to do.

Zarbock: I'm going to ask you kind of a childish question, or it'd be a question that children might ask. Assume for the purpose of our discussion that you have a magic wand and you could wave it and things would change, what would you like to have changed about volunteers and volunteerism?

Irene White: I'd like to see more people get involved. I think we've got a-- the men, basically, we're in a community here in Wilmington, there's a lot of retirees and how much golf can you play? How much bridge can you do? How much canasta can you do? Get out there, help your neighbor, help your friends. It's, it's, you know, I had an elderly-- my neighbor, she's passed away, but she was in her house, her husband was in the house and she says she looked forward to me coming home because I would talk to her and uh... she says, "Even though you were in a wheelchair, it doesn't stop you. You still talk with people and stuff and uh... you know, you've got some friends," you know, the husband goes off in the morning to golf and she doesn't see him 'til they come back home at night. And I said, "What are you doing?" "Oh, I'm sitting home." I says, "Why?" "Well, I don't know what to do." I says, "You can volunteer." "Well, I don't know what to do, you know, I don't do the computers or I don't sew." I says, "There are places that would be happy for you just to stuff envelopes, just to, you know, I've done my share of stuffing envelopes." I stuff envelopes at the senior center every month because I send out birthday cards to people, you know, for the whole month. If your birthday's in January, you'll get a card from us. So that has to be done. And, you know, there's really no reason why a person can't volunteer. Three hours a week. That's all we're asking. We basically ask you to do three to four hours a week and, you know, and they say, "What do I get in return?" That's the problem. Everybody wants something in return. They don't want to do it freely. Everybody I think is on the pay cycle. You gotta be paid for everything you do and uh... you know, it's how are you gonna treat yourself. I'd like to be paid, too, like anybody else but it's not my time. My rewards will come later on. It doesn't hurt you to be out there helping people.

Zarbock: And you say you also get a current reward by helping people, do you feel?

Irene White: I think you do. You do. I've seen it here at the senior center and I've heard of things and you hear of people saying, well, this person's down on their luck and we've been able to help somebody or you see them taking out Meals on Wheels to people who are stuck in their home. These people are stuck in their home and they'll-- they won't meet anybody else but the person delivering their Meals on Wheels and I went through it with my mother-in-law. They would deliver the Meals on Wheels for her in New York and uh... that was the only one that she would see because her children were grown and not living there any more. But uh... she would say, "Oh, the girl comes and talks to me." We know they didn't sit and talk to her but she looked forward to getting her Meals on Wheels and I think we've got a lot of clientele, the senior citizens here, they look for that lady to come to bring-- or that gentleman. We do have men delivering Meals on Wheels, to come and deliver their Meals on Wheels and also one thing which is great about the people delivering the Meals on Wheels, if they go to your house and sometimes they leave the meal there, if they go back, somebody else will go there the next day, they'll realize that meal hasn't been picked up and they will report it here to the center. We went to so-and-so's house and that meal was still there. So we have our clients, or our people in our department here will, find out why that meal wasn't picked up. So it's helping yourself. It's also bringing back to the community. It's a watching program. You don't realize it but it's watching, you know? The same like the mailman, you know. Unless your mail is there three or four days, he may not know that something's wrong. So it's a caring program. It's uh... getting involved and you have to get involved. It doesn't hurt to be involved either in your, your church or your synagogue or a school close to you, a soup kitchen, packing clothes, anything. It's just, you know, we've got so many opportunities out there that you can help people. It doesn't hurt.

Zarbock: Ms. White, we're just about at the end so I wonder if you would care to make some reflective comments, not only for the tape but also for your children and your grandchildren who are going to receive copies of this tape? What have you learned in your life? Looking back over your shoulder, what are some of the important things that you've learned and you'd like to tell your children and grandchildren?

Irene White: Uh... basically, you have to wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror and you have to be happy with what you see there and if you see something that you can change, you're gonna have to try and change it and you have to know, if you can. And if you can't change it, say at least I tried and you have to be true to yourself because you gotta answer to yourself at the end of the day. Uh... the only thing that I'm really sad about is that I didn't take better care of my health but uh... that was something, you know, you learn to live with. I'm paying for it now but I hope my grandchildren and great-grandchildren learn that the value of your life is your health, you know? Just don't say, oh, yeah, tomorrow, tomorrow. If you have a problem, take care of it. Don't let your health get away with you because, with your health, you not only have a strong body, you have a strong mind. And uh... you know, we all have to answer to somebody and it's to ourselves as well as our maker no matter what religion you are, you know? You have to find peace with yourself and, at the end of your life, you just hope you didn't hurt anybody on the way down, up or down, you know? If you say a nasty word, just think how you'd like that person to say it to you so treat your fellow _________ with respect and uh... I'm not a martyr. I just try to get along with people. If people don't like me, well, okay, find somebody else to like. I just-- can't do anything about it. I am who I am. If it's black, it's black. If it's white, it's white and I'm not gonna change my opinion. I don't go out to hurt people, I just try to, you know, I'm not gonna change the air, the environment or the colors or anything else, just uh... work with people and try to understand what people are doing. It's all you can do in life.

Zarbock: Ms. White, you are an inspiration.

Irene White: Oh, thank you, Paul.

Zarbock: Thank you for making the time to be with us.

Irene White: I enjoyed it. Thank you very much for asking me. It was a pleasure dealing with you.

UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database
Found in:
Randall Library | UNCW Archives and Special Collections | Online Database | Contact Us | Admin Login
Powered by Archon Version 3.21 rev-1
Copyright ©2012 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign