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“They told us we were making baby carriages … all kinds of ridiculous things … but we knew it wasn’t true …”

In 2017 Lillian Schklar was honored with the Hands On Nashville Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Award for her years of work as a FiftyForward AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer serving as a Friends Learning in Pairs (FLIP) tutor. She has led a lifetime of volunteer work and we wondered about the driving force behind this tireless and impressive volunteer.

Q: As part of the Greatest Generation, you have been through the Great Depression, WWII and even worked at Oak Ridge in 1944 and 1945.  Can you tell us about this pivotal period in your life? 

Lillian Schklar’s life was, as she says, “a typical farm girl’s life,” growing up in a large farmhouse in the South. Her life changed dramatically in 1944 when she signed up at 18-years-old to work in a factory.  She says, “I graduated one week and the next week was in Oak Ridge, working in the war effort.”

Those days were a big shock to her as she had to learn to live in a dormitory with hundreds of other young women. They all worked different shifts, days and nights, and she explained there was constant noise one had to learn to sleep through to get their rest. But that time spent as “cubicle operator #2” showed her that she could “do anything we put our minds to…”

Later, after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, Schklar was shocked to learn what she was a part of—the making of the atomic bomb—all done in small parts and pieces that she was not fully aware at the time were contributing to the larger war effort. She had just done her small part, adjusting meters on a screen, day in and day out, without knowing the bigger picture.  Despite being part of the “Atomic Girls,” she has found very effective ways to stay positive about everything in her life.

Q: You’re a big community volunteer, can you tell us why that is important to you?

Schklar has volunteered in numerous organizations including Easter Star, Boy Scouts, AARP, and FiftyForward’s Friends Learning in Pairs (FLIP) program. She explained that growing up with a father who was an “old-fashioned gentlemen,” and who let the girls on the farm work the garden and do other projects, as well as a “mom who was friends with everyone,” Schklar has tried to be like her parents. She grew up with several siblings including a younger brother for whom she cared and helped raise. She enjoys working with people.

Q: What is the biggest benefit you receive from tutoring and interacting with young students who could be your great-grandchildren?

Schklar says she enjoys the one-on-one with the kids, talking about the little things in life, saying working with kids “benefits me because they live in a different world than I grew up in…” This dedication and open-mindedness to work with all kinds of students has endeared her to the school and to the kids.

Q: How do you stay young and engaged?

After a lengthy laugh, Schklar says, “I can’t wallow in misery. As long as I have a good book, and one of my word puzzles, I’m good.” She claims she doesn’t have a plan: “I just hang loose and go forward.” 

Q: What is the one piece of advice your parents gave to you (that at the time you thought was silly) that now rings true in your everyday life?

Schklar says her momma always said, “whatever happens, take it with a grain of salt.” At the time she didn’t understand what that meant, but now she embraces “one day at a time” striving “to be happy, comfortable and to take things in stride.”

This December 13, Lillian Schklar will celebrate her 95th birthday, doing what she always does:  move forward.  She continues to amaze us.

Watch her Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Award acceptance speech here: https://www.facebook.com/448485261882395/videos/1428987810498797