May is Older Americans Month, a national month of recognition for older citizens and their impact on our country.

This national designation was instituted by President Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens in an effort to raise awareness of the lack of programming needed to support those who lived past 65 to bring about the social change in 1963.

Since then, every President has issued a formal proclamation to recognize May as Older Americans Month which calls for Americans to pay tribute to older persons in their communities. Each year the month has a specific theme to inspire all to think differently about generational differences. This year’s theme is “Powered by Connection” which recognizes the powerful impact of meaningful relationships and social connections.

At Loretto, we celebrate Older Americans Month through special programming, events, and recognition ceremonies for the over 10,000 people we serve annually.

We also honor this month by telling the stories of our remarkable residents, like Walda Metcalf, whose work has impacted not only the Syracuse community arguably the world through her work and advocacy efforts.

Syracuse University Connection

When you meet Walda and ask her to tell her story, the conversation quickly turns to books, which makes sense because her life has been dedicated to learning and publishing scholarly works.

Born and raised in Chittenango, New York, Walda attended Syracuse University, where she earned a BA in Slavic Linguistics.

Why Slavic Linguistics? “As a child, I had an interest in music and language. When Sputnik went up in 1957, I was inspired to learn the language.”

It’s that love of learning and language that set the course for Walda. After Syracuse University, she earned a PhD in Ethnomusicology, the study of music in its social and cultural contexts, at the University of Michigan.

“It’s the study of instruments people play; we don’t know what the language was in many cases, but we do know how they sounded, and I found that fascinating.”

After earning her degrees, Walda began her career in publishing with her first tenure at Syracuse University, where she served as the Syracuse University Press Editor in Chief for twenty years. There, she

managed the Press and published scholarly nonfiction, and in her own words, “It was my job to select the work that would be published. I didn’t write books; I enabled them to be published.”

It was Walda’s job to both manage the Press and raise money to support its work, and she got assistance from a legendary Syracuse coach to do just that. “I graduated with Jim Boeheim in 1967, and I would get him to help with the fundraising drives. He would answer the phone for me which helped raise money and awareness of the Press.”

She would go on to have a storied career in publishing, serving as the Director of the Penn Museum of Archaeology and the University Press Editor for both the State University System in Florida and the Central European University Press.

Worldwide Connection: Working with a Billionaire in Budapest

Recalling her time at the Central European Press brings a big smile to her face. Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros hired Walda to lead the Central European University Press during a critical time in Budapest, Hungary. George has been a prominent international supporter of democratic ideals, and his philanthropic organization, the Open Society Foundations, supports democracy and human rights in more than 100 countries.

“It was thrilling working for George Soros in Budapest, Hungary. Being in a country that had recently declared itself free of communism, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on. It was great to be a part of it.”

Connecting Yesterday to Today: How Walda Saved a Historic Home Now Incorporated Into the I-81 Project

Today, she felt that same thrill when she recently discovered a historic property that she helped save was going to be incorporated in the major I-81 Project in Syracuse, a $2.5 billion project by the New York State Department of Transportation that will remove a section of the interstate and replace it with a Community Grid to reconnect downtown neighborhoods.

“My husband at the time, Ian Nitschke, and I learned about a 100-year-old house that was going to be demolished by the City of Syracuse to create a parking lot for a medical complex nearby. We convinced the city to leave it standing, purchased it for $1 in 1977, renovated it, and worked with city officials to get the property protected by the Landmark Preservation Board which ensured it would never be torn down. I recently learned it will be incorporated into the I-81 Project, which is very exciting!”

The home, 1010 East Washington Street in Syracuse, is known as the “Ignatius Fiesigner” property on the Landmark Preservation Board List. After selling the home, Ian Nitschke told a local paper that, “We’ve done our part to secure a little piece of Syracuse’s history.”

Walda’s Legacy of Learning

Today, Walda resides at The Bernardine, one of Loretto’s independent living facilities. Her apartment is filled with books and memorabilia from her lifetime of learning, a philosophy she has passed on to her son who is a lifetime learner himself as a chemistry professor at the University of Cambridge in England. At the Bernadine, she enjoys meeting new friends for coffee and participating in the building’s social activities.

“I really enjoy living at The Bernardine; the food is great and the coffee is spectacular! I have met a lot of new friends and I enjoy spending time with them. And, of course, I’m still reading and learning new things every day.”



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