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Resident Spotlight: Lillian Benson

January 2, 2018

Lillian Benson: Always on the Move

Lillian Benson is always on the move. It’s the secret to staying young, she tells me. And her life’s stories demonstrate that.

Lillian was born in San Francisco as the third of three daughters. Her own mother, Freida Sussman, immigrated to the U.S. from Kiev, Russia, at just 19 years old. Freida came to the country by herself, through Ellis Island, and immediately set to work establishing herself as a tailor. She eventually relocated from New York to St. Louis, where she met Lillian’s father, and then to California.

Growing up, Lillian dealt with serious asthma, and as a result lived in many homes all around the Bay Area as doctors tried to advise her of the best climate for her breathing. Despite her frequent childhood moves, Lillian always stayed rooted to San Francisco, and was even one of the first people to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge the day it opened in 1937.

When she was older, Lillian attended Balboa High School, commuting each day by streetcar from her home in Daly City. After graduation, her mother, who by that time had her own tailor shop, spied a handsome young man about Lillian’s age in her store. She struck up a conversation and invited him to a family dinner. Lillian and the boy from the store, Leon, found they had many similar interests and began dating, eventually marrying and moving to their own home in the City. Three children soon followed – two boys, Paul and Mark, and a daughter, Janette. Lillian stayed home to raise the children when they were small, but once her youngest was a few years into grade school, she headed to work as a typist, taking two buses each way to get to her job in the heart of the City.

Lillian has always loved zipping around the City – by streetcar, bus, or car. In fact, when it was time for each of her three children to learn to drive, it was Lillian, not Leon, who served as their teacher – and not an easy one, at that.

“To teach me how to drive in San Francisco, she had me take a manual transmission car to the top of the steepest hill she could find, Lombard Street, and told me to go for it. I was panicked!” daughter Janette recalls.

“She’s smart,” Lillian says of her daughter. “I totally trusted her.”

“She knew how to give her children challenges, and then guide us to accomplish them,” Janette says, smiling.

Even after retirement, Lillian stayed on the go. She and her husband traveled extensively, seeing much of the world. When they were home, they would end each day with a long walk around Lake Merced.

Since joining the Sterling Court community 6 months ago, Lillian has settled in well. She still makes it a point to walk daily. Her daughter reports, “She goes out and walks around the block every day. She’s feisty. The sidewalks aren’t even, and it doesn’t stop her. She just keeps going.”

The Benefits of Volunteering

December 22, 2017

Giving Back This Holiday Season: The Benefits of Volunteering All Year Long

As we head into the holiday season, our thoughts often turn to helping those less fortunate than ourselves. While dropping a few coins in a Salvation Army red kettle or donating canned goods to a food pantry are very worthy acts, one of the greatest gifts that you can bestow is that of your time. 

The Gift: Benefits to the Community

As a volunteer, you offer a lifetime rich with skills and experiences that may be leveraged to contribute to your community in a variety of ways. Tutoring or mentoring a younger generation is one way to contribute, and there are specific organizations for matching seniors with at-risk and disadvantaged youths. For example, in the Foster Grandparent Program you can volunteer at day care centers or schools to provide one-on-one care and attention to children in your local community.

Investing your free time to aid other seniors is another way that you can help, and there are several programs that offer support to elderly community members who need assistance with day-to-day household tasks, transportation, and errands.

Even a hug can be a donation in the right environment, as recent headlines have reported that some hospitals across the nation have instituted cuddling programs that invite vetted volunteers to suit up in sanitized uniforms and hold newborn babies when parents and nurses are unavailable to do so. Since these programs aren’t yet common, your hug can go just as far at a local animal shelter where hands-on volunteers are always welcome to offer cuddles.

The Return: Benefits to You

Volunteerism is beneficial to more than the assistance recipients. Research has shown that volunteering can do just as much good, if not more, for the volunteer. Some of the observed positive effects include a renewed sense of purpose and control over one’s life, reduced rates of depression and isolation, and increased emotional stability. The National Institute on Aging has reported that participating in purposeful engagements like volunteering can lower the risk of chronic health issues and improve longevity.

One study showed that three-fourths of U.S. seniors with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even dementia have reported that staying active through volunteering has helped them successfully manage these conditions.

Volunteering also offers the chance to explore personal interests that may have been brushed aside earlier in life in favor of work or family responsibilities. A love of animals, teaching, or gardening may all be tapped into to improve your community while indulging your personal passions.

Get Started

If you are interested in gifting your time this holiday season, or anytime throughout the year, there are many ways to find available opportunities. is a website that matches individuals’ interests with local volunteer positions, or you may contact local libraries, hospitals, or animal shelters directly to learn of their areas of need. However you choose to contribute, you will be giving a gift, to both the recipient and yourself, that is truly priceless.

Resident Spotlight: Helen Pakush

September 1, 2017

Helen Pakush: At Home with Life

As a teenager, Helen Pakush was very involved with Ukrainian dancing—which is reflected in the decorative plaques that line the front door frame of her apartment. “I loved that kind of dancing,” she says, “and I still play many of my old LPs.”

Helen was born to Mary and Nicholas Pakush on the ethnically rich and vibrant Lower East Side of New York. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, and found it a congenial place to raise their seven children. Helen’s father was a waiter on Wall Street, where he learned English and also to read and write. Helen’s mother was raised by her aunt and saved her earnings as a farm laborer to leave the old country. “My mother couldn’t read or write,” recalls Helen, “but she had great common sense. One day, I came home from school, crying because someone called me an ugly name, and she told me to recite ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will not hurt me.’”

After graduating from Washington Irving High School, where she excelled in math, Helen went to work for Equitable Life Insurance Company in its medical insurance lines. “I had wanted to be a nurse,” she said, “but my mother dissuaded me. She said I’d learn more as a secretary and get paid more. I think it’s the other way around these days.”

Helen met her late husband Nicholas, who was of Russian-Ukrainian background, at a picnic at College Point, N.Y. “I didn’t like him, and he didn’t like me. He said I was too skinny.” Still, Nicholas wrote to her when he went abroad to work as a civilian mechanic for the Boeing Company to assist Britain on a special project called Project 19. “He was abroad during the entire war,” Helen says. “He went to England, Africa, and India. That travel, I believe, was equivalent to a college education.”

Nicholas and Helen reconnected after the war and began to date. Nicholas worked in international sales for General Tire, and Helen was attracted by his excellent manners and work ethic. “Back in those days, we really dressed up to go on a date, and Nick loved to go to nice restaurants and Broadway shows.”

The young couple married and soon had three children—Barbara, Audrey, and Nicholas Jr. Nick was transferred to California, which Helen believes was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” After looking at various areas, including Foster City, which Helen laughingly describes as “looking like a sand dune at that time,” they moved to a new housing development on Los Altos Place in San Mateo.

Nick traveled extensively for business, and the children became involved in scouting, dance, and Little League baseball. Helen played “mother hen” to neighborhood children at the family’s backyard swimming pool and later went to work for the San Mateo County Medical Society. “It’s ironic,” she says, “that I never became a nurse but was involved in the medical field during my work life. My daughter Barbara is a nurse today and got her PhD in nursing from UC Davis.”

Helen has lived at Sterling Court for nearly a year and enjoys it. When asked to sum up her view of life, she points to her strong religious faith. “We’re all born with eyes, a nose, ears, and hands to work with,” she comments. “Our ten fingers remind us of the Ten Commandments. All we need to do is look at each finger and ask ourselves if we have followed the commandments that day. It’s so simple, and it has kept me on the right track.”

Learn More

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850 N. El Camino Real San Mateo, CA 94401 Phone: (650) 344-8200 Fax: (650) 344-7395