Margaret Steers was recently honored by the Shadow Ranch Recreation Center in Canoga Park as the outstanding volunteer of 1987. "Grandma" Steers has had many jobs in the center, but her favorite is to get out and talk with the people in the park.
I was born in The Commons, a little village outside Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland, in nineteen hundred and one. My father, bless his soul, was a miner, and my mother was a cook at the little police station there.
I was raised in a little thatched house. It was just two bedrooms. We had a clay floor and an open fireplace. We were poor, very poor, but it didn't hurt us any. For fun, we'd make a slide up on the hill or pick huckleberries or go up in the heather. Coming home from church we'd pick blackberries.
I came to America in 1920 on a ship called the Baltic. I was 19, and I didn't know anybody. I was steerage, way down on the bottom. I got very seasick.
I came into Ellis Island two days before Christmas. In those days they kept you overnight. There were people there from Poland and Czechoslovakia and different countries, with their pots and pans, their mattresses and pillows and their little suitcases. That's all those people had.
My sister got me a job at the National Biscuit Co., where she was a supervisor. I was putting cookies into tin boxes on a conveyor belt, and they all went on the floor. I wasn't fast enough, so I got fired. Then I got a job at the Marlborough Hotel as a chambermaid. I was there for quite a while.
I got married in 1929, and we moved to Pennsylvania. In 1940, I got polio. I had finished housecleaning for the fall. I felt my leg getting kind of stiff and cold. We had a coal range in the kitchen, so I opened the oven door and put my foot in there. It didn't do any good.
The doctors said I would never walk again. I told them I would walk. I had my leg in a cast for six months, and then they put me in a brace. My husband would take me out every evening, and I started to walk. It took me about six to eight months. I suffered, but I walked.
My husband passed away in 1961. I sold my little house out in Corona and came here to my son.
I'm a volunteer in the neighborhood. When people go away they say, "Grandma, you want to take care of the house and the animals?" I don't want any pay for it; I just want to do it, that's all.
Years ago they had Meals on Wheels. I went out on that from Guadalupe Center. Then I became a volunteer at the church, Our Lady of the Valley. I've been there almost 10 years. I've been a volunteer at Shadow Ranch Park for 20 years. I'm very busy, all the time.
If I see a dog not on a leash, I tell the people, "If the park ranger comes in, you're going to get it." They say, "Thank you very much," and they put the leash on the dog. The same way with drinking.
There is something about grandmas. They've got closeness. I'm grandma to the whole darned neighborhood. Mexicans next door, they call me grandma. We've got Egyptians, Armenians and Iranians living here. I meet them at the park. They all call me grandma. Black kids, too. I'm grandma to everybody.
I just walk over to people and talk to them. Especially elderly people and the young people. If I see someone who needs help, I go help them. I talk to people and ask them where they're from and ask them if they like America. I tell them it's the freest country in the world and it should be appreciated.
Who do you think built this country? The immigrants, that's who built this country. From all over the world they came. Sure they were persecuted. The Irish couldn't even get a job when they first came. Finally people just opened up their hearts. That's what this country is made of, all foreigners. They built your railroads and everything else.
Sometimes I get tired, but you can't give up. You just keep those old legs going. A lot of people who are sitting in rockers and watching television should get out and do things for other people. You don't have to get paid for it. You get paid from the man upstairs.