Tea — for two — was good chance to meet
By Barbara Shaffer
Vindicator Society/Features Editor
Dorothy Soles, who will be 93 in August, used the occasion of Trinity United Methodist Women's English Tea on June 9 as an opportunity to arrange a face-to-face meeting after 20-plus years of telephone rapport with The Vindicator's Society Department.
She looked exactly as I had imagined. In fact, she could have been the grandma I only vaguely remember from my childhood.
However, had I allowed her to paint the mental picture I have had of her, she’d have looked more like a character in the Dick Tracy comic strip, because she has often called herself “Gravel Gertie” because of what she calls her “gravelly” voice. “Deep,” I’ve corrected. “Sexy,” I’ve teased. But hardly “gravelly.”
As it turned out, the fictional figure looks nothing like the short, sweet soul — Dorothy Soles — who wore pink just so I could spot her in the crowd recently at Trinity United Methodist Women’s annual English Tea.
“I’ll also look like the church’s Grandma Moses,” she said, jokingly.
It was on June 9, and it was a meeting we’d each promised the other many times over the years.
Dorothy invited me to be her guest at the tea, which took place at Trinity United Methodist Church, where Dorothy is a parishioner and member of the UMW. It was the perfect opportunity for the two of us to finally meet face-to-face.
Dorothy has been calling our Society Department — for what we guess to be 20 to 25 years — with meeting announcements for the clubs to which she belongs.
Over the years, receiving news by phone or mail for our weekly club calendar has been replaced with faxes and emails. But Dorothy has remained one of the minority who take the time to call in their club news.
What I knew about her before the tea was that I could practically set my watch by Dorothy’s calls. What I didn’t know about her for the longest time was she was reciting — not reading — the details she had memorized before placing the call. It wasn’t until I interrupted her with a question once that she explained she was reciting the information and had to start over again.
That’s when I found out Dorothy is legally blind.
Since then, I always let her finish — hoping I don’t forget my question in the meantime! What a pair we make.
That determination is what has impressed me about Dorothy. She takes very seriously a task that wouldn’t have taken something as limiting as legal blindness for me to try to pass it off to someone else.
But now that I know Dorothy better, that determination is simply who she is.
Dorothy, who will be 93 in August, came to the Youngstown area in 1942 after graduating from Clearfield (Pa.) Hospital School of Nursing. She was a nurse at Youngstown Hospital Association’s North Unit for about a year before following her husband, Alfred Owens, to San Diego, where he was stationed in the Navy during the war. She worked at the Red Cross Blood Donor Center.
After the war’s end, they returned to Youngstown in December 1945, and Dorothy resumed her nursing position at the North Unit until 1947, when she gave birth to the couple’s son.
Dorothy returned to nursing eight years later, working part time at the YHA’s South Unit and filling in during vacations at Republic Steel Co.
After the death of her husband in 1969, Dorothy went back to work full time at the South Unit, where she remained until retiring as assistant head nurse in 1980.
Dorothy married her second husband, Melvin Soles, in 1973 after the couple met when he was a patient under Dorothy’s care. When he died in 1992, she moved into an apartment connected to the Austintown home of her son and daughter-in-law, Fred and Dawn Owens. Fred’s name is surely one many will recognize, as he is a professor of communications at Youngstown State University. They have a daughter, Elisa, who is a YSU student.
By tragic coincidence, both of Dorothy’s husbands died in the month of May, both while mowing the lawn.
Jackie Burley, executive director of Protestant Family Service, who attended the Trinity UMW's tea, served the other guests at her table. Seated, from left, are Joanie Morrison of Austintown, Marilyn Morelli of Canfield and Elva Easton of Boardman.
It was in 1999, Dorothy says, that she started to lose her sight. But had she never mentioned it, I’d have never guessed — nor believed — she has such limitations.
I, with my full vision and the ability to freely drive myself wherever I want, must tip my hat to this little lady, who — with over three decades on me — puts me to shame with her commitment to her membership involvement with Chapter CE of PEO Sisterhood; Clotilda Club, an auxiliary of Miriam Chapter 278, OES; Trinity United Methodist Church, its Naomi Circle, the MarSing Sunday School Class and the UMW; Retired Nurses; and Youngstown Hospital Association Alumni.
I learned so much about my friend Dorothy in so short an afternoon.
No, she couldn’t see me, but as we visited, what I could see as she spoke was more than simple determination. I realized it’s a passion that drives her, not only now, despite her limitations, but during her 24 years of nursing. It’s a passion for people.
“I’ve always looked for the good in people, especially my patients,” she said. “There is a heart and soul in every person.”
Vernon Brown of Poland served as one of the waiters at the English Tea on June 9 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Youngstown, where he is a lay leader.
The tea would have been a special treat for me without the added bonus of finally meeting Dorothy.
It’s been going on for what UMW member Marian Engelhardt of Youngstown guesses to be 15 years. She said she was the group’s leader when the first — and supposedly only — tea was planned.
“The program committee had run out of ideas when it came to the June meeting. I suggested doing something fun, since it would be the last meeting until September,” she said.
She mentioned a tea party, and the committee thought that it would be different and that they should try it. The executive board took charge and pulled it together.
Then — and ever since then — members have taken their own lovely fine china to set the tables. To Marian’s knowledge, only one teacup was ever a casualty of that tradition.
The afternoon’s tea, sandwiches and cookies that found their way to the beautiful china were served by the waiters, Adam Zagotti of Austintown, organist and office manager at Trinity, and Vernon Brown of Poland, who is Trinity’s pastor-parish relations committee chairman, lay leader and a finance committee member.
“There has always been a variety of entertainment, even our own ‘Antiques Roadshow’ one year,” Marian said.
Each, no doubt, offered the challenge of being a hard act to follow for the next year’s committee. But had I been privileged to attend them all, I am willing to bet that this year’s program would stand out as my favorite.
Pianist Beth Hornickle of Boardman, a member of Trinity, set an inviting mood for the guests’ arrival in Great Hall, and a very moving solo by the Rev. Stephen Sparling of “You Raise Me Up” had me humming the tune for days to follow.
Program speaker Sis Soller of Youngstown kept guests at the tea laughing with her popular poker-face delivery of a humorous program on marriage and family.
Plus, I’m always a sucker for comedy, and my favorite local funny lady, Sis Soller of Youngstown, was the afternoon’s program speaker.
Sis always cracks me up. And that knack didn’t stop when her program was over this day.
Why on earth I thought walking from The Vindicator to Trinity was no big deal on that 90-plus degree afternoon, I’ll never know. Afterward, on the walk back to the office, just as I was dragging myself to within 10 feet of the front sidewalk, I sensed a car pull up beside me. Surely the driver had overheard my pleas of “Water! I need water!” No. It was Sis. “Hey, lady, can I give you a lift?” she said, laughing as she pulled away.
How long will the tea go on? Although Marian said she’s not sure because the group keeps getting smaller, she expressed hope that the women who are still working will carry on the tradition.
Marian has made the tea every year but this one. Since she’s now 90 and uses a cane to get around, she thinks it’s time to retire from the planning committee and become a guest. ... “Maybe.”