Story– Iva Heuser named Senior of the Year
Ask Iva Heuser why she was selected “Senior of the Year” and the former teacher pauses before answering.
“I’m useful, I guess,” Heuser said.
To appreciate the depth of that assessment, take a peek into Heuser’s personal history.
Born in Long Beach in 1931 just ahead of the Great Depression, Heuser’s first 10 years of life witnessed widespread fear and scarceness. As the economy plunged, necessity brought people together.
“I was raised in a time when folks helped each other,” the spunky senior said.
Surviving the depression era took hard work, patience and a charitable nature, qualities Heuser learned from her mother Rachael and step-father Walter Aistrup, lessons which would serve her well for a lifetime.
Heuser and her sister were born before their mother was 20. Their natural father died shortly before Iva arrived.
“Mother was a waitress, and would run home at lunch to see if we were okay. Sometimes the daycare sitters came, sometimes not. We were latch-key kids before there were latch-key kids. We managed all right in our tiny row house, with its army cot and Murphy bed. We were fortunate. Later, mother remarried and my step-dad joined us. He drove a truck during the depression,” Heuser said.
Her mother Rachael would become a seamstress during the war and an activist in the Women’s Labor Movement of the 1930s.
Ever expansive, young Heuser was selected by her school to receive a violin. It turned out to be a good choice. Years of lessons and practice landed her in the Long Beach Women’s Symphony Orchestra.
“Give her an opportunity and she’ll take it to another level,” said Kellie Bailey, an El Dorado County Senior Center employee who was Heuser’s high school student 40 years ago. “It’s just the way she is.”
Heuser’s childhood friend Harry Heuser was her constant companion and school mate. They became high school sweethearts on and off, finally marrying in 1950 — just in time for Harry’s entry into the Korean war. He survived and wound up at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California.
“I fell in love with the foothills,” he recalled. Then it was back to Southern California with Iva, and resumption of his career with Bell Telephone.
The sweet sirens of the Sierra called, and in 1956 a transfer was approved, and the couple moved to Placerville.
Two children had arrived by then, (eventually there would be five).
Heuser, now a teacher at Latrobe School, returned to college for a master’s degree.
Latrobe School was tiny but fast growing, and much coordination fell to her. Soon, administrative duties began competing with her teaching hours.
“Do one thing at a time,” she reflected on life’s lessons. “And do it well.”
Heuser became school principal, successfully managing the new building programs, PTA, teachers concerns and five kids at home.
Greater opportunity was at hand, but she shunned management positions.
“Understand, I’m a worker-bee, not a queen bee. I like to put my head down and focus,” she said.
In 1982, Harry retired from the phone company. Iva left the school system, but her industrious nature led to part-time work with Eldorado County.
Her pattern of applying organizational skills to administrative challenges continued for more than 10 years, first in the El Dorado County Agricultural Department, then Animal Control and finally in the District Attorney’s office.
This county career was punctuated by forays into Alaska with Harry.
Somewhere along the line Habitat for Humanity, the home building charity, got her attention, and before long she was hammering nails and organizing paperwork as a volunteer. That lasted 10 years.
“She’s capable and reliable” observed Harry. “Responsibilities always find her.”
During this time Harry had begun working for the county nutrition program and home delivered meals.
This program which prepares and delivers hot meals to those in need, wasn’t much of a leap for the Air Force veteran and pilot.
For 50 years he has been a cook for the annual Jeepers Jamboree, preparing tens of thousands of hot meals every year for wilderness enthusiasts.
“What’s 500 meals a day?” he joked with a straight face.
These days Harry delivers the meals, leaving food preparation to the non-drivers.
It wasn’t long before Iva began asking what she could do for the overworked and understaffed county senior department.
“You can file,” suggested Ruth Green, senior nutrition manager.
That led to more responsibilities.
Iva makes qualifying home visits, types, files, works budgets, prepares meals, sets tables, cleans up and sorts keys.
She points out the endless cabinetry at the senior center.
“Two hundred storage units, each with a unique key. Imagine my surprise when I opened a desk drawer and found bags and jars of keys, none identified. Knowing this would be a big job, I enlisted my right arm, Darlene Rondo. We set about making sense of the keys, one by one — testing, recording, organizing,” she said.
Helpers like Rondo take pressure off the employed staffers.
The county senior center is a clearing facility for a variety of services from insurance counseling to home energy assistance, from nutrition (meals at the nutrition sites and home delivered) to legal assistance for the elderly.
Other outreach programs include weatherization, protective services, peer counseling and shuttle services. The list goes on.
“As county employees retire they’re being replaced by volunteers,” Heuser said.
“It’s a budget thing. The work load isn’t getting any smaller … and we do need new faces up here to help.”
Thus the indefatigable duo, Iva and Harry Heuser, are still teaming up after 63 years of marriage and a lifetime of friendship.
Both were nominated for the El Dorado County Senior of the Year award last year.
Iva won it by herself this year, and received an official certificate, a handsome medal, and a Bennett sculpture which she’ll keep for a year.
This depression survivor, violinist, educator, pilot, mother, wife and community volunteer won’t run out of work, the way things are going.
Her plea goes out to everyone.
“If you have the time and energy, please come down here and join us. It’s quite satisfying,” she said.
So what happened with the project involving the keys? “We’re almost done,” she said smiling. “Almost done.”