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May 6, 2009 > Senior raises the bar

Senior raises the bar

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By Miriam G. Mazliach

Ken Mayer sees his mom as Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, Alice Waters, Georgia O'Keeffe and Helen Keller rolled into one person.

"I was thinking about all the things she's done over the years," he says. "She has given back to the community time, talent and friendship. She doesn't realize how much she is appreciated."

The feeling is reciprocated. "My wonderful two boys didn't give me any hardships," Priscilla Mayer recalls. "They have turned into fine men and wonderful fathers. I am very proud of them. They were my life. People ask me, why I stayed single all these years. My life was to raise my sons to be good men."

Upon meeting her, you can see right away her enthusiasm for life, her joyful spirit and "can do" attitude. In fact, there's little this Renaissance woman can't do, as she has proven time and again over the past 87 years.

Priscilla was born in Canton, Ohio, the daughter of Italian immigrants. They moved to San Leandro when she was three. After high school, she attended the Lake Merritt School of Business in Oakland and during World War II went to work at Caterpillar as a bookkeeper in Production Control. While there, Priscilla met her future husband, Fred.

It was a typical American story up to that point. Then things got interesting.

One day, Priscilla read in the newspaper that volunteers were needed to relieve overworked hospital nurses and decided to answer the call. She took a Red Cross course at Providence Catholic Hospital in Oakland, where she became a volunteer nurse. Her diploma was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself, she says proudly.

Eventually Fred and Priscilla divorced, and she was left to earn a living and raise her sons without any support from her ex-husband. Not unusual today, perhaps, but relatively rare in the mid-1960s. In addition to holding down a job to pay the bills, she was involved with them in activities such as Boy Scouts.

Priscilla still had a dream to achieve: becoming a full-fledged nurse. At age 43, she took classes at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro and went on to become a rehabilitation nurse for 14 years, specializing in spinal cord and head injuries and stroke recovery.

"You were given the best facilities and lots of time to work with the patients to help in the recovery process," she recalls. "It was hard work for the nursing staff, constantly lifting, but you could see the results from the care."

Desiring a creative outlet as well, she took ceramics and art classes and became accomplished in oil painting. Much of her artwork is signed "Premassia," - her Italian given name.

After retiring from nursing, Priscilla decided to move to Kelseyville in Clearlake to be near her friends.

One would think this is where she started to slow down, but the fun was just beginning. She began by volunteering at the local church, cleaning the sanctuary and washing and ironing the linen.

When the new Post Office was being built, Priscilla pounced on an opportunity and approached town supervisors about remodeling the old building into a Senior Center. Being rather persuasive, she not only got approval but a budget of $200,000 to complete the task, with the help of a lot of volunteer labor.

Still, Priscilla had more in mind and annexed the small building in back of the Senior Center to turn into a computer/art classroom. With her son David's help, she asked Samsung to donate computers and they gave her 10. She advertised to get volunteer instructors to teach computer skills to seniors. People lined up to register for the classes. Eventually they offered training at beginning, intermediate and advanced levels.

Many seniors, aware of Priscilla's artistic abilities, asked her to teach an art class. She started once-a-week instruction for a dozen students. "I didn't make money, as I supplied the easels and oil paints and even rented the building for $5/day - but it was fun, fun, fun."

As if that weren't enough, in her alleged free time, Priscilla organized an Art and Wine Festival to benefit the Senior Center.

She hasn't slowed down since moving to Fremont four years ago, even after suffering a heart attack last November and having a pacemaker inserted. In her matter-of-fact manner, Priscilla describes feeling nauseated, passing out then calling one of her sons to tell him she would be calling 911. Upon awakening at the hospital, she asked, "Did I scare anybody?" A two-time breast cancer survivor, Priscilla wasn't going to let a health fright get the best of her.

Priscilla's sons, Ken and David, daughters-in-law and three granddaughters are a big part of her life and a major reason for living in Fremont. Residing at Garden Oaks, a beautiful apartment community of seniors and deaf residents, Priscilla still enjoys an active and involved schedule and is even learning sign language to communicate with deaf neighbors.

She continues her volunteer efforts by teaching weekly oil painting classes to residents. Furthermore, Priscilla organized a community garden to grow fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers and also teaches English as a second language to seniors.

"Being active and able to be around people of different religions and nationalities is wonderful, as is sharing my own way of living and growing up in America," she says. The people here are very loving and nice to me."

This Mother's Day, we'd like to honor Priscilla Mayer and all mothers throughout the world.

Do you have a remarkable Dad?

The Tri-City Voice invites readers to submit an article, up to 600 words, about your father. We'll print our favorite in the June 10 issue, and post all fitting entries on our web site.

Please email a text file, with FATHER'S DAY ENTRY, to by June 1.

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