By Abigail Smith
Never underestimate the impact a small act of kindness has on the world. Meet Millie Schilman, whose kindness extends to each and every resident of United Church Homes’ Parkvue Community in Sandusky, Ohio.
For the past couple of years, Millie has dedicated most of her free time to one simple act of kindness — sending greeting cards to the residents of Parkvue. At the beginning of each month, she creates a list of birthdays, making sure not to miss a single resident. When someone is in the hospital or loses a loved one, Millie sends a card to offer comfort. When residents move from assisted living at Parkvue Place to long-term care at Parkvue Healthcare, Millie lets them know they’re still close at heart, even if they’ve moved locations. And when Christmas rolls around, Millie delivers a holiday card to every single resident in both buildings.
The fact that she sends these cards is no surprise to those who know Millie. She grew up just a block from the American Greeting Card Company in Cleveland, Ohio, and she used to walk there to buy discounted cards as a child. When Millie was in second grade, she made her first card — her class was tasked with making the third-graders cards.
“My teacher, Miss Warner, told us, ‘No one should ever go without a valentine,’” Millie said, “so we ended up making two valentines for each student. Then we tiptoed across the hall and slipped the valentines under the (third-grade classroom) door. That’s about all I remember, but Miss Warner saying that has stuck with me.”
Another moment in Millie’s life endeared the art of giving greeting cards to her. Her mother-in-law kept scrapbooks in which she pressed every card she’d ever received.
“Every card meant something to her,” Millie said. “That made me realize that even though we live in a (digital) world, to hold a card in your hand, to say ‘this is my card,’ — well, that means something.”
Throughout her school years, Millie and her friends exchanged cards. She said it was an inexpensive way to show people that you care. She also said sometimes the cards they traded weren’t always kind but often funny. She shared the message from a valentine she received as a girl (and remembered after all these years!):
Millie, Millie, in the tub,
Oh my goodness, there goes the plug!
Goodness, goodness, goodness, my soul,
There went Millie down the hole!
When Millie’s husband asked her father for Millie’s hand in marriage, her father even joked that he better buy stock in the card company if he wanted to marry Millie.
A children’s librarian by trade, Millie has been a joy to all who meet her, and throughout her life, she gave greeting cards — spreading that joy to others. Then five years ago, she fell and landed on her shoulder, shattering it. She spent a month recovering, and her daughters suggested she and her husband move to assistant living. Although they were reluctant to move, Millie said living at Parkvue turned out to be “swell.” They lived there a year before her husband suffered a stroke and then continued enjoying each other’s company until he passed away in 2018.
At Parkvue, Millie took over sending cards from another resident, and she began sending those first cards anonymously. She would tuck cards into doorways and mailboxes and then silently walk away. The cards would be waiting for residents when they opened their doors, but they had no idea who sent them. Once a resident opened the door just as Millie turned to leave, and both women screamed.
“She said, ‘Millie! You!’ and I said yes,” Millie said, chuckling. And that’s how residents found out who had been sending them cards.
Millie doesn’t take credit for the kind gesture. She signs each card with “Blessings from all your fellow residents at Parkvue Place.”
“They are truly from all of us, not just me,” she said.
This past Christmas, Millie sent 294 cards – an incredible amount, especially considering she’s also sending sympathy, get well and birthday cards on top of these. When asked where she gets her supply, she said that staff and residents donate them to her.
Once, she received 77 valentines, and she wondered what to do with them. “We have 87 residents here at Parkvue Place,” she said, “but God really does provide. I decided to send the valentines to people in the healthcare building. It turns out they were the ones who really needed them. One woman said that was the only card she ever got.”
Millie already has her cards picked out for 2019, and she has no plans to stop. “It’s a likeable job — a little time consuming, but I sit with a cup of coffee and select cards for different residents,” she said. “Some have great senses of humor, and others don’t. We’re all different.”
Thank you, Millie, for your thoughtfulness!
If you would like to donate cards for Millie to send, please drop off or send to Abigail Smith at UCH Central Office, 170 East Center Street, Marion, OH 43302.
This article is reprinted with permission from United Church Homes’ Winter 2019 issue of Spirit Magazine.