A leader by example
Janice Middleman, left, Rabbi Shaul Osadchey and Bobbie Osadchey, with Florence Middleman in the foreground. (photo from Rabbi Shaul Osadchey)
While it is becoming more commonplace to see people reach the age of 100 in fair health, it remains rare that an individual reaches the age of 110. So, Florence Middleman has beat the odds. And one person in particular has helped her achieve this milestone – her daughter, Janice Middleman.
Florence’s parents moved to eastern Canada at the turn of the last century. At the time, Alberta was vying to become a province. “They went east and recruited, and asked my grandparents and many others to be homesteaders,” said Janice. “As they stayed on the land a certain length of time and worked the land and raised animals, the land would become theirs.
“So, my grandparents came to Alberta and were homesteaders for quite awhile. It was during the dry-land period. There were many dust storms. At some point, they had to put the animals in the house and had to stay in the shelter on the hill they’d built for the animals – to protect themselves and the children from the dust storms.
“After a period of time, they moved to a small town near Edmonton, called Daysland. My grandfather, Max Goldberg, was a tailor. He made the red jackets for the Mounties, as well as everybody else’s clothes.
“My grandmother, Molly, was a midwife and spoke many languages. She delivered all the babies in the town and also accompanied the doctor on his rounds, as many people were immigrants who couldn’t speak English. She translated, so he could treat them.”
Florence was about 19 when the family moved to Edmonton and opened a store. She married Harry Middleman, who had moved from Montreal to Edmonton during the First World War. Janice was their only child.
The family moved to Calgary. While she lived in Toronto during her university years, Janice returned to Calgary afterward to be close to her parents. She took more university courses in Calgary.
When Harry passed away in 1985, Janice moved in with Florence. She found a flexible job she could do from home, while also caring for her mom, as there was no other family in the city.
Florence had four brothers who all passed away many years ago. Janice likes to describe her mom as having won the gene pool by living so long. “She’s got a tremendous spirit, plus the marvels of medicine as well,” said Janice.
Florence worked until the age of 68 as a librarian at an elementary school. She would have continued working and the library tried hard to keep her on, but, at the time, there was a law in place that you had to retire at the age of 65.
“When she did retire, she took a nap every day,” said Janice. “She has just a very, very good attitude. Besides working and helping to support our family, she volunteered at shul, Hadassah, the Red Cross and the Cancer Society – just to name a few.
“She had an interest in everybody, in Judaism, a belief in God, and kept a kosher home. She had an interest in the world. She appreciated everything and the beauty of nature, and appreciated children, animals and people in general. She still does.
“She always had a lot of friends. Regrettably, most of them are gone now, but she always had a lot of friends. She realized how important it was to give to the world. That’s also part of Judaism, to make the world a better place.”
When asked about her keen interest in child welfare and education, Florence said, “I worked at Glamorgan elementary school, including their library and the rest of the school, and bonded with the students. I was well liked by the children and got to know their likes and dislikes, their needs for education and their quality of life.
“One boy was Jewish and asked me if the library had any Jewish books. There were none in the library, so I brought some from home for him to read. He was very happy to have them.”
Janice added, “After that, my mother was very instrumental in inspiring the school to have multicultural books in their library. It spread to all the schools after that, a great deal due to her influence.”
Florence shared that some of her most-loved reading includes many “biographies, books on Judaism and prayer … biographies on artists, politicians like Abe Lincoln, history, art books, history of art, Canadian history, and all different countries.”
Janice noted, “She was and still is interested in countries and how they got where they are. She has a great love for literature, like Shakespeare, Dickens and William Blake. Also, my mother has written and continues to write our family history, as well as short stories and poetry.”
Florence had this to say about the most-treasured people in her life, such as her daughter, Janice: “I keep good people around me who care about other people, care about doing good works and doing good things in the world. My parents contributed greatly to the town of Daysland.”
As to whether she has any words of wisdom she would like to impart to readers, Florence said, “Keep on going. Surround yourself with good people who have good thoughts and care about their families, friends, the world, who care about contributing to the world and making it a better place and doing good work.
“Volunteer,” she added. “Give to charity when you can. Enjoy Judaism in any manner you are able. Give your time to your friends. Listen to them when they need you. Have a positive attitude. Be optimistic. Be grateful for what you have – your health, family, friends, home, food on the table and clothes on your back.
“Don’t think of the past or what you don’t have. Enjoy every moment, the moments you are in. Keep liking everyone. Don’t forget to thank people in your lives, in your family, and to appreciate everything you have.
“And take time to be good to yourself,” she concluded. “Take a nap every afternoon to refresh yourself. Be good to everyone. Be good to your family and friends. Don’t forget to thank God everyday for everything you have. Before Friday, during the week, don’t forget to be grateful to God and to everyone for everything in your life.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.