Super Senior: Irene Schaefer

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 12:18 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 7:13 PM EDT
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RANDOLPH, Vt. (WCAX) - Organ music flows from the Bethany Church in Randolph. But downstairs, it’s what Irene Schaefer sees that is music to her ears.

“Well, look at all these gloves we got,” Schaefer said. “Tons of soap!” The three tons of supplies are headed for Myrhorod, Ukraine.

In the early ‘90s, Randolph formed a sister city relationship with this central Ukrainian community. Schaefer went there 19 years ago as a member of the Randolph Rotary Club. Now, watching the images of the Russian invasion, the 93-year-old went into action. She reached out to Alex Riepin, the young man who translated for the Americans on that trip. “He was our only contact in Myrhorod and we were just determined to do something,” Schaefer said.

Lee Khan is in charge of logistics in what they’re calling “Project Dove.” Khan helps sets up a video call with Riepin to check-in. “You’re looking good today,” she said, meeting again under trying circumstances.

“He’s an older version of himself, but who isn’t? We all are. But, it was so good to see his face,” Schaefer said.

“People are still not believing that it’s happening right now,” Riepin tells the group. Myrhorod is a city of 40,000, now with an extra 6,000 refugees added from the east. Riepin’s two young children sleep in the basement for fear of being bombed.

“It’s just horrifying to me what’s happening in Ukraine,” said Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Randolph’s town manager in the 90′s, who was instrumental in forming the international relationship. “I was totally floored walking in here yesterday and just looking at everything people have given. It’s amazing.”

From clothes to crutches and Band-Aids to boots, Randolph rallied. “It’s a perfect storm in many ways. The need is there, the relationships are there, and Irene’s leadership,” Khan said.

Khan and Schaefer mailed out 3,375 flyers to everyone in town and it’s fair to say the response has been overwhelming. “Oh, Irene is a super, Super Senior!” said Marjorie Drysdale, one of the project’s volunteers.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Schaefer and her husband, Bill, left the Garden State for the Green Mountains in the 1970s. When they were in their 50s, they traveled cross country on motorcycles.

“Nobody gets through this life without some problems, but it’s how you face it,” Schaefer said. When Bill died suddenly on vacation in Hawaii. she says her trust in God helped her with her grief. “It’s a big part of my life.”

Schaefer has been a chaplain at Gifford Medical Center in town for 22 years. When she was 74, she took a leap of faith and went skydiving. “Well, you know, what good is a life of moaning and groaning,” she said.

“I just want to thank all you people, your community, and Randolph community,” Riepin said.

“Well, it’s great to talk to you,” Schaefer said.

A positive personality, helping others near and far.

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