A Hundred Years and Counting

“I’m one-oh-one right now. I’ll be oh-two in January,” John Pierce explained while taking a break volunteering at the Downey Avenue food pantry. At a century, plus one, John devotes an afternoon regularly helping people in the community. He fills bags of food for people, carries canned goods to and from the storage area, and helps out wherever he can. His eldest daughter, Helen Bewley, volunteers at the pantry as well, and the pair are part of a core team of volunteers at the food pantry on Thursdays from 1-3 at the church, located at 111 S. Downey Ave. in Irvington.
John was born in 1914 near Brazil, Indiana. He was one of 12 children, and the family moved regularly so his father could take jobs as an excavator. He’s proud to tell everyone, “We were raised with morals and values. Of the 12 of us, only one ended up in jail . . . my sister who married a sheriff and their home was the jail.” As a child, he lived in a house with no indoor plumbing or electricity. In 1936, he married Katherine Fulton, and together they had four daughters. He worked as a machinist at Schwitzer on Brookside, retiring in 1979. After retiring, John and Katherine traveled all over the place. “My wife liked to travel,” he said. He sang in a quartet and the church choir. “I love music. Big Band is my favorite, but I like it all.”
In 2005, John’s wife passed away. “It broke my heart. I mean it really broke my heart.” He was hospitalized, and a pacemaker was put in, and Helen noted that her father intended to go into an assisted living facility. However, John decided that wasn’t for him, and asked to stay at Helen’s home. “It has worked out well, with all the thanks to go my husband Richard,” Helen said. “Dad has his room, and the living room to watch TV. It works for us.” John agrees. “We get along good,” he explains. “She’s my companion.”
Not one to sit idle, John volunteers at Downey, and also exercises every day — walking, riding his three-wheel bicycle, and doing calisthenics. He goes ballroom dancing, where he is popular with the ladies who are stuck with husbands who won’t dance. “I’ll dance with them. I can’t do a lot of jumping around, but I can do the slow stuff.” John loves to read mystery novels in his recliner when he isn’t busy.
Leslie Walsh, who is in charge of volunteers at the food pantry, said that she loves it when John and Helen come in to help out. “He’s such an amazing person,” she said. The pantry is one of the programs of ICAN, or Irvington Churches Advocacy Network, which is a non-profit, tax-deductible organization serving clients in the Irvington area with potential financial assistance for rent, utilities, clothing, and/or referrals. The boundaries for the Downey Ave. pantry are 21st St. to the north, Brookville/English Ave. to the south, 465 to the east and Sherman Dr. to the west. The food pantry serves between 42-60 families on a regular basis, and offers help in other areas as well, thanks to a social worker who comes every week to offer connections to other kinds of assistance. “We’re lucky we have great volunteers in the community,” Leslie said. “Our neighbor Mundell and Associates lets their employees come over to help with hauling food, rotating stock, and other things. We’d like to get other local businesses to pitch in as well.”
More volunteers are always welcome, Leslie pointed out. They are looking for Spanish-speaking volunteers, and individuals who can do some “heavy lifting” of canned goods and other items. “We would like to spread some more help in the neighborhood.”
The pantry gets food from Gleaners Food Bank, but could use donations of paper goods (toilet paper, paper towels, feminine hygiene products, diapers) as well as canned and non-perishable food. Leslie said that they’d also appreciate donations of magazines.
To volunteer or get more information, call Leslie at 317-695-3577 or e-mail her at happybunny@indy.rr.com