Celebrating Grandparents Day

Home & Family, Hometown Heroes, People
on August 29, 2004

As a child, Marian Herndon McQuade walked miles with her grandmother, visiting elderly shut-ins in the West Virginia farming community of Hico. Those trips inspired her life-long devotion to the elderly, eventually leading to her successful campaign for a national holiday honoring grandparents decades later.

Her grandmother would take food and home remedies, and Mom said she would listen to the stories they had to tell and the songs that were being passed down, says D.J. McQuade-Lancaster of Chula Vista, Calif., the second of McQuades 15 children. She thought the elderly were fascinating and wise.

Margaret Salimi, the 13th of the 15 children, accompanied her mother on nursing home visits as a child. I always wanted to go because there were interesting people to talk to, she says.

These days, Salimi visits her own 87-year-old mother at a nursing home in their hometown of Oak Hill, W.Va. (pop. 7,589). McQuade entered a nursing home last year with Alzheimers disease, which kills brain cells and is the leading cause of dementia.

McQuades interest in the elderly led to her appointment to several state, local and national panels on the elderly, including serving as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging. She began working for recognition of elderly shut-ins, and President Richard Nixon in 1972 signed a proclamation for the celebration of National Shut-In Day.

She thought people would pay attention and visit if there was a national day, McQuade-Lancaster says. But Nixons proclamation was good for only one year, and when McQuade began working on legislation for an annual National Shut-In Day, supporters suggested National Grandparents Day would accomplish the same goals and be easier to get Congress to pass, her daughters recall.

The congressman and senators said National Shut-In Day wasnt a positive image, and they said how about National Grandparents Day? Salimi says. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed legislation declaring National Grandparents Day on the Sunday following the Labor Day holiday each year.

And while McQuade-Lancaster is proud of National Grandparents Day, she says her mother was much more than the founder of a day honoring grandparents.

She sewed all our clothes until I was a senior in high school. She grew African violets. She collected stamps. She made sure we had piano lessons. She entered the West Virginia Mrs. America contest. She ran for Congress, her daughter says.

McQuades 13 surviving children, 43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild are now scattered around the country, but they have a reunion every three or four years. And their matriarch isnt forgottenlast years gathering was in Oak Hill so McQuade could attend.

Lailah Rice laughs at the memory of her grandmother dressing up like country comedian Minnie Pearlcomplete with a hat that had a price tag dangling downthen entertaining nursing home residents with a monologue and jokes. She loved jokes, Rice says.

Salimi, a registered nurse who cared for her mother and late father, Joe McQuade, for several years in her home, says one of the saddest days of her life was the day she had to call an ambulance to take her mother to a nursing home.

So she visits each day and still finds her mother an inspiration. (With) every single person who enters her room, she smiles, no matter how bad she feels. Anything they do for her she thanks them. Shes a true picture of love, Salimi says.

When I think I cant accomplish something, I just say, Look at Mother.

Celebrating Grandparents Day

Marian Herndon McQuade never wanted National Grandparents Day commercialized, says her daughter D.J. McQuade-Lancaster, president of the National Grandparents Day Council.

The council oversees National Grandparents Day programs such as Grandparents of the Year and the Forget-Me-Not Visitation program, which recruits people to visit the elderly in nursing homes. Sixty percent of people in nursing homes never get a visitor, McQuade-Lancaster says.

Grandchildren nominate their grandparents for National Grandparents of the Year, submitting artwork, poetry or essays honoring their elders. A winner is selected in each state, and from those a national winner is chosen each year, she says.

She suggests a number of ways to celebrate the holiday, starting with visiting shut-ins.

She (Mom) always said that everybodys a grandchild, and if your grandparents dont live nearby, you can adopt one in a nursing home, McQuade-Lancaster says.

Then, go through old photos and write names on the backs of pictures so relatives will be remembered when the grandparents who knew them are gone.

Get grandparents to tell stories about the olden days at family reunions, sharing skills such as quilting or woodworking, or compile a family tree together.

Ask teachers to take their classes, school or Sunday school, to visit nursing homes or put on a program for them, McQuade-Lancaster says.

For other suggestions or to learn more about National Grandparents Day, visit www.grandparents-day.com or call (619) 585-8259.