Extraordinary neighbors who, even in their golden years, are making the world a better place
Albert Einstein once said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” A few Preston Hollow residents embody that truth as they reach their golden years. At age 70 and older, their heartrending experiences have compelled them to make every moment count toward noble causes, both here in Dallas and abroad.
Free of hate: William and Rosalie Schiff[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S_fu-PYMFk[/youtube]
William and Rosalie Schiff were married in a dank, overcrowded ghetto once part of their hometown of Krakow, Poland. It was hardly a joyous occasion since neither of them knew if they’d live to see another day.
“I didn’t have time to think,” Rosalie says. “I just said ‘I do.’ We were happy because we loved each other. That’s all.”
She was 19. A few weeks earlier, she had helplessly watched as her mother and siblings were dragged off to their deaths.
“They took my mother, my brother and my sister, and left me by myself. I wanted to go with them, but they pushed me into the corner. I just sat there crying. I’ll never forget that.”
She never saw them again. More than 70 years later, the wounds of the Holocaust run deep for Rosalie, now 88. She and her husband wrote a book about their experience in 2007, titled “William and Rosalie: A Holocaust Testimony.” William died in December 2010.
For 23 years, Rosalie volunteered with the Dallas Holocaust Museum, sharing her story with churches, schools and other local groups. The longtime Preston Hollow resident recently moved into an independent living community in Plano.
“I have dedicated my life to teaching people not to hate,” she says.
Despite hundreds of public speaking engagements, she still struggles to explain the horrors she endured.
“One day, I was looking out the window,” she says with her thick Polish accent. She pauses as tears well up in her eyes. She clasps her hands and hangs her head. “It’s still difficult to talk about. I was looking out the window, and I saw long lines of people. They were sending thousands of people to their deaths … those who couldn’t work — women, old people, little children just like them,” she says, pointing to her two great-grandchildren frolicking around the living room.
It wasn’t long before Rosalie found herself standing in that same line.
“I was standing in the line, and a man came over and said, ‘You’re too pretty to be in this line.’ He gave me a stamp to leave.”
That man was Oskar Schindler, the German responsible for saving more than 1,000 Jewish people during the Holocaust.
“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
William and Rosalie were later transported to the Plaszow labor camp run by the infamous SS commander Amon Goeth — the principal villain in “Schindler’s List” — responsible for killing 2 million Jews. He put William to work in the factory while Rosalie was on “heaven patrol,” cleaning up dead bodies.
Then, the couple was separated. Rosalie headed to another work camp while William ended up at Auschwitz, the Nazis’ largest concentration camp.
“We were separated for three years,” Rosalie says. “I didn’t even know what Auschwitz was. We were locked up like dogs.”
The Russians freed Rosalie from her camp, but by that time, she was gravely ill, coughing up blood. She had no family or friends. Her hometown was now in shambles. She roamed the streets, looking for food in trash cans. Finally, a college professor allowed her to spend the night in his apartment.
“It was not easy after the war,” she says. “I had nightmares. I was very upset.”
Then, one day, a stranger on the street told her that her husband was coming home.
“I fainted,” Rosalie says. “He came back. I saw him walking up from the third-floor window, and I wanted to jump out.”
The two eventually made their way to U.S., where they built a new life and generations of Schiffs.
“Her story has always been a part of my life,” says Rosalie’s granddaughter, Jennifer Mayes. “When you think about how much they lost, they still get to see the generations of their family live on.”
Humanitarians of hope[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nQO9lMM21w[/youtube]
When David and Margie Vanderpool first arrived at the Karlovka Rehabilitation Center for Children about six years ago, the situation was dire.
“It was heartbreaking,” David says. “It was dark and cold. The children were expressionless. They didn’t have enough to eat. They didn’t have jackets. It gets bitterly cold in the wintertime.”
Today, the kids are healthier and happier thanks to the Vanderpools and their team of volunteers, who have been traveling to the Ukraine each year to deliver supplies, set up recovery programs and minister to the children.
“They can sense the fact that someone cares about them. It’s so rewarding to see things like that happen.”
The government-run orphanage is home to the country’s “throw-away” children, ages 8-16, who are picked up off the streets already addicted to drugs and alcohol. They are forced to leave the home at age 16, and only about 20 percent become successful members of society. The rest end up homeless or dead, David says.
The Vanderpools have developed a two-pronged mission. It began when David, a surgeon at Baylor Medical Center, decided to make use of outdated medical equipment by taking it to rundown hospitals in the Ukraine.
“It’s still as useful as it was then. A tremendous amount of that gets destroyed or packed away. The hospitals in the Ukraine are more outdated than the old Parkland Hospital when it opened in 1952. They’re that far behind.”
Their fetal monitor was a primitive wooden cylinder with a flared end placed on the mother’s abdomen while the doctor listened to the heartbeat on the other end. The tool resembles the original stethoscope designed in 1816, David says.
While delivering the first batch of supplies, David and Margie visited the Karlovka orphanage and realized they had to help there, too.
David says he has dabbled in some humanitarian aid over the years, but his work in the Ukraine has become a lasting mission. He and his wife Margie have lived in Preston Hollow for 48 years. Margie was among the first residents in 1937 before the area was annexed to the city of Dallas in 1940.
It’s true what the history books say — there was one man policing the entire town. And that’s all it needed, says Margie, who was just a kid at the time.
“We had one police officer, Leroy Trice. He knew all the kids. I don’t recall any fire trucks; I don’t recall any fires. There weren’t a whole lot of people out here. When the war was going on, I remember we’d all run down to the corner to wave at the troops as they were leaving.”
When she married David, the two moved away for a couple of years while he was in the Air Force, stationed in Amarillo from 1961-1963. David is still an active pilot and often flies his Beachcraft Bonanza to the family’s vacation home in Angel Fire, N.M., and to visit their son in Nashville.
The Vanderpools continue to travel to the Ukraine once a year and have become fixtures in the communities there. Recently, they helped set up transitional housing for the children who leave the orphanage, offering vocational training and increasing their chances of living a successful life on the outside. They work with Eastern European Ministries and are part of a nonprofit, Programs for Humanitarian Aid, that helps provide a strong support system of Ukrainian locals who lead regular church services and teach life skills.
The Vanderpools also helped mobilize volunteers at Skillman Church of Christ in Lakewood, teaching Vacation Bible School at the orphanage and putting together gift boxes to ship at Christmas. This year, they’re supporting a second facility in Gorlovka, Ukraine, which houses teenage mothers and their babies.
David is still shipping medical supplies and even helped recruit other staff at Baylor to go and teach the doctors and nurses how to use their new equipment.
“My philosophy is that I could go over there for a week and help 20 or 25 people, and after I left, there would be no change. But if we can improve the quality of care by updating the equipment and skills, we can help thousands.”
A cause of Olympic proportions
Just a few months after taking his first daughter home from the hospital, Jim Albright knew something was wrong.
“Some of our neighbors and friends noticed that she wasn’t developing like a normal child,” says Albright, 78.
He took her to the doctor Aug. 1, 1966 — he remembers the exact date because it was the same day that Charles Whitman opened fire from the clock tower at the University of Texas, Albright’s alma mater, killing 16 people.
By 11 that night, his daughter’s test results were in. Doctors confirmed that Kate had infantile spasms, a neurological disorder characterized by small seizures and developmental delays. She needed medication immediately and barely made it through the night.
“The experience was one of despair, frustration, not knowing exactly what the long-term would hold,” Albright says. “You go through shock.
“My Christian instinct told me to drop to the floor. I got on my knees and asked the Lord to allow me to keep her and raise her in the nurture and admonition of himself. He allowed us to keep her.”
Kate attended a special school Downtown before transferring to Marsh Middle School and graduating from W.T. White. Today, she’s 45 and lives with her parents in Northaven Park. She works on the assembly line at BeautiControl cosmetics company and has an IQ of 68.
Watching his special-needs daughter grow up sparked Albright’s interest in the Special Olympics, for which he has raised $800,000.
“I became enamored with them and their lifestyles,” he says. “I became sympathetic. They were dealt a different hand than you and me.”
He began volunteering with the Dallas chapter 10 years ago, attending the track and field meets held at Texas A&M University.
“I mostly stood at the finish line. I would be a hugger at the end of the races. That’s what they really need is a hug.”
He also was on the committee that plans black-tie galas and live and silent auctions.
In 2004, during a chance meeting with Heisman trophy winner John David Crow, Albright had a “brilliant idea,” he says.
“I said, ‘What if I got every one of the Heisman trophy winners to sign a football?’ He (Crow) said that would be impossible because of the geography, agents, policies of the schools and just making contact.”
Determined to meet his lofty goal of raising $1 million for the Special Olympics, Albright started small, finding all the Heisman winners who lived locally, such as Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett. Next, he embarked on several trips across the country. About 70,000 miles later, he had 55 autographs on the football, which sold at auction for $200,000.
Everyone’s name is there, including the infamous O.J. Simpson, whom Albright met in a hotel lobby in Miami, Fla.
“He walked in and said ‘You must be the man from Texas.’ ”
But Albright’s most memorable experience came when Reggie Bush won the Heisman in 2005. (He later returned it after allegations that he received improper benefits from the University of Southern California.)
Albright attended the ceremony in New York, clutching his football half-covered in signatures, hoping to add Bush’s name.
“He was swarmed by sports writers. I couldn’t get near him.”
Then, he noticed Bush’s mother, Denise Griffith, in the crowd. He told her his mission, and she hollered, “Reggie! You get yourself over here right now!”
“These guys are mamas’ boys,” Albright says.
The Heisman football wasn’t the only item he sold for Special Olympics. He did the same thing with the 95 living winners of the Cy Young Award, baseball’s equivalent of the Heisman. He sold the collection of 95 balls for $250,000. Albright also has sold gear autographed by athletes such as Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson, to name a few.
Health issues have slowed Albright a bit recently, but as soon as he’s well, he’ll start globetrotting again for his next project — tracking down all of the players from the USA hockey team that, against all odds, beat the Russians during the 1980 Winter Olympics (the movie “Miracle” is based on their story).
Maybe then, he’ll finally meet his $1 million goal.
“This is a memorabilia-crazed society we live in,” Albright says, “and I’m taking advantage of it.”