Once a lonely young immigrant from Greece, Lily Janidas has lived in Follansbee, W. Va., Marion, Ind., and Steubenville, Ohio. For many years now, she has called Stark County home, and she and her oldest son consider Mercy to be family.
Guest post by Mary Beth Breda, Mercy Volunteer Services Coordinator
I met Lily Janidas and her grown son Pete Janidas in the basement of Mercy at St. Paul Square at a recent Christmas Open House for northeast Canton. Both have been part of Mercy’s “family” for several years. As Lily and Pete shared their story with me, I was reminded of the rich diversity that exists in this community.
Joys of the Season at St. Paul Square
The open house was held on December 4 by Mercy Mission Outreach. From the bright white lights of the Christmas tree that beckoned visitors to its lovely branches, to the joyful melodies sung by the middle school students of the Crenshaw Elite Choir, I experienced the joy of the holiday season. Near the entrance, I was greeted by two smiling ladies from Humility of Mary Associates. They were giving out a ticket to community members to turn in for a free pair of warm socks that had been donated by Mercy Service League. They also were giving away goodie bags that included a toothbrush, toothpaste, Kleenex, gloves, cough drops, dental floss and hand sanitizer.
The open house was truly a collaborative event with several local agencies partnering to provide food, donations, and information. Mercy Development Foundation’s M.I.L.lennials, a group of local professionals, sponsored a fundraiser to help cover expenses for the open house. Visitors were seen bustling from room to room to participate in a variety of activities planned for the event. In one room, participants could meet with Mercy’s diabetes educator, Beth Matthews, who provided information on food and nutrition. Other rooms offered blood pressure checks and chair massages.
In a small room, next to the Christmas tree, children were getting their faces painted with brightly colored stockings and Christmas trees before they bounded to the third floor to talk with Mrs. Claus. She greeted adults and children with a smile and reassuring words that her husband and a team of busy elves were diligently overseeing operations at the North Pole during the final days before the annual tour by sleigh and reindeer.
Visitors to the event enjoyed light refreshments donated by several local agencies, including Molina Healthcare, Touch Point Solutions and Eli Lilly and Company. They also listened to the talents of student flautists in the basement, which is where Lily and Pete were sitting.
A Lonely Girl From Greece
Lily came to America from Athens, Greece, to live with her sister and to go to college. She originally planned to be here for only a couple of years and came on a temporary visa. Although America has been known as the “land of opportunity,” Lily recalled feeling lonely as she struggled to speak the English language. Students are taught English in Greece, but speaking the language in a classroom versus living in a community where English is the primary language was a huge cultural adjustment. She missed her family, the parks, the delicious food she said “she never tired of,” and the beautiful seas that surrounded her native country.
“The evenings always came alive in Greece,” she said.
Lily may have returned to Greece had she not decided to go to a church dance at the All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Weirton, a town located at the northern tip of West Virginia and named “Gateway To The Valley.” On that day she was introduced to a young, handsome navy veteran sailor named James Janidas. He shared her Greek heritage, although he was born and raised in the United States. James danced right into her heart that day, and they were eventually married.
From West Virginia to Indiana to Ohio
The Janidas’ moved to Follansbee, West Virginia, where her first two sons, Pete and Christopher, were born. Pete shared there were no hospitals in Follansbee, so Lily and James crossed the Ohio River to have their babies at an Ohio hospital. James served in the Navy and was a veteran of the Korean War. Lily describes him as a “religious man, with a great sense of humor, who was full of life and who loved food and people.”
James held several jobs throughout his career, including working at the Hub, a retail department store in Steubenville, Ohio, and the Wohl Shoe Company in Marion, Indiana, where her third son, James, was born. The family eventually settled in the Canton area where James sold insurance. All three boys pursued different career paths. Pete, Lily’s oldest son, has held different jobs over the years, most recently working for Bocko Inc., a plastics company once located in the area but now closed. Christopher graduated from Stark State College and lives in East Sparta. Christopher works as an electronics technician for Akron Children’s Hospital and has given Lily her first grandson, Logan Mathew, now six years old. James, the youngest of the boys, works in Columbus as a computer programmer.
Lily agreed that living in the United States has given her opportunities. She went back to college after the boys were raised and attended Stark State College, where she obtained a degree in general studies, even graduating at the same time as her son Christopher. She said her accent did make it more difficult to find a job, but she found a position at Trillium Family Services, now closed, where she supervised five people.
Mercy Becomes Home Away From Home
Mercy Medical Center became her “home away from home” when James became ill. During his illness and after his death, Lily shared how much Mercy embraced her family. She and Pete have doctors in our medical office building, are members of Mercy Senior Friends, are frequent visitors to the StarkFresh Farmer’s Market, and have attended events sponsored by Mercy Mission Outreach. When Tracia Wellman, mission outreach coordinator, stopped by our table to say hello, Lily’s face lit up and exclaimed, “This lady has been so nice to me and Pete!”
I asked Lily to name some adjectives that describe Mercy to her. After some reflection, she responded, “Kind, friendly and caring.”
I also asked her if she has ever visited family in Greece. “Yes,” she said, “I’ve visited my sisters there, but my home is now in Canton.”
Lily and Pete were indeed at “home” that Friday afternoon as we sat reminiscing about their lives and connection to the Mercy family. As the flautist stood in the corner and played the holiday classic song, Sleigh Ride, I thought of all the people and experiences that won over a lonely girl’s heart – a girl who had come from a warm, Mediterranean climate with all the charm and romance of the old world, to the snowy hills of West Virginia and the oftentimes chilly, even frigid temperatures of winters in Ohio.
I concluded the real connection comes from time and effort devoted to building into people’s lives. The familiarity with staff that I felt from observing many different families who attended the open house was yet another reflection of Mercy’s ongoing commitment to reach the many ethnicities, personalities, and needs of community members with open arms and hearts.