Vickroy: Raised by grandparents, she cherishes seniors
Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 September 7, 2012 2:56PM
Katie Liston was raised by her grandparents, John and Mary Ann Hurley, in Chicago’s Beverly community. “I learned a lot from them,” Liston said. “How to raise a family, how to save money and how to appreciate life.”
According to grandparents.com, there are 70 million grandparents in the United States today. They lead 44 million households, a number that is expected to swell to 50 million by 2015.
In Illinois, more than 200,000 children under age 18 are living in a grandparent-headed home. More than 100,000 grandparents are caring for their grandchildren.
Source: Illinois Department on Aging
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:09AM
For many, the bond between grandparent and grandchild is a very special one.
Since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter proclaimed a day just for grandparents, that bond has been celebrated nationally on the second Sunday in September.
For Katie Liston, however, Grandparents Day is the most special holiday.
That’s because Liston’s maternal grandparents, Mary Ann and John Hurley, raised her and her two brothers after their mom died.
They say that when one door closes, a window opens. Sometimes that window is a foray into a new and happier life.
In the case of Liston, it opened onto a career path, as well.
Liston, who grew up in her grandparents’ Beverly community home, just blocks away from Smith Village, a continuing care retirement community, is today resident services director at its sister location, Smith Crossing in Orland Park.
“I have a real soft spot for older people,” Liston said. “I have such respect for them and their generation — what they’ve gone through.”
Liston lost her parents when she was nearly 3. As a result, she and her twin brother, Frankie, and their younger brother, Michael, went to live with their grandparents.
“I grew up in a multigenerational household,” Liston said. Her grandparents still had several of their children living at home. Aunts and uncles quickly became like siblings for Liston and her brothers.
“It became very easy for me to talk to people of different ages because that’s what I grew up with,” she said.
The Hurleys taught their grandchildren how to be respectful and caring, especially of older relatives.
“They always took us to nursing homes to visit great aunts and great-grandparents,” she said. “It was never anything scary. It was just something you did. I often made friends with the roommates of whoever we went to see.”
Liston said Grandma Hurley had a reputation for being strict. “Everyone knew you didn’t mess with her,” she said.
Needless to say, much like parents and teens, Liston said she and her grandmother butted heads a bit during her adolescence.
“But today we’re like best friends,” she said.
And she is extra close to her aunts and uncles, too. Her aunt was maid of honor at her wedding last year.
Liston even delivered a special Father’s Day salute to her Uncle Tom Hurley, pastor of Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago. In that address, she credited her grandparents with being pillars of strength, who trusted heavily in their faith and who taught their children and grandchildren to do the same.
“Our family is no stranger to the feelings associated with loss,” she said. “Feeling sorry for ourselves, however, was not an option.”
Of course, she said, her childhood was different from that of her friends.
“But you only know what you know,” she said.
“I was very blessed to have my grandparents care for me,” she said. “They mean the world to me.”
Liston, 32, attended Mother McAuley High School, working part-time as a dining room server at Smith Village, and Eastern Illinois University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality.
She worked for a time as a meeting planner and then as a personal assistant to a sports promoter.
Three years ago, she landed a position in the human resources department at Smith Senior Living.
Last year, she became responsible for planning special events for independent living residents at Smith Crossing, among them a Grandparents Day ice cream social.
Her upbringing serves her well in her new position, she said. Even her broad range of music appreciation, which includes Glenn Miller, the Beatles and, of course, modern bands, helps her relate to people of all generations.
When old friends learn what she does for a living, they are not surprised.
“They always said, ‘If you want to find Katie in a room, look for the oldest person. That’s where she’ll be,’” she said.
Liston and her husband, Dan, live in Palos Heights.
Her grandparents continue to be a big part of her life.
“I learned a lot from them,” she said. “How to raise a family, how to save money and how to appreciate life.”