Back in January 2020, I came across this picture, which the MaineHealth Learning Resource Center had shared on its Facebook page, along with this message:
Join us in wishing Jim a happy 98th birthday!!!
Jim Mardin volunteers at the MaineHealth Learning Resource Center in Falmouth on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. He greets everyone who visits with his charming smile and helps them find their way in the building.MaineHealth Learning Resource Center
I thought, wow! I need to meet this man and ask him if he’d like to be a guest on my Conversations About Aging podcast. I contacted the Learning Resource Center and soon after, Jim and I talked on the phone, shared a few emails, and agreed to meet at his condo in Portland (Maine).
Jim retired when he was 65 — that was 33 years ago. His late wife Bettie knew he’d need something to keep him busy, so suggested that he join her and become a volunteer at Maine Medical Center (a member of MaineHealth).
He continued volunteering even after Bettie passed away. “I haven’t given up yet,” he said. He was still going strong when we sat down together on the morning of March 2, coincidentally, the same day Maine’s Governor Janet Mills convened a Coronavirus Response Team. Ten days later, Maine had its first positive presumptive case of COVID-19, and on March 15, the Governor declared a Civil State of Emergency.
I had planned to publish my conversation with Jim by the end of March but instead stayed at home with no access to my usual editing resources. I decided to put my podcast on hiatus, and Jim was no longer able to volunteer at the hospital because that program, too, was halted.
When I checked in with him to let him know about the delay and to see how he was doing, he told me he was spending most of his time at home or with his companion Lucy who is also in her 90s and still lives in her own home. He sent me this email:
Am doing fine with the help of my long time friend. Go to her house each morning and spend the day. She has friend bring in groceries and she cooks for both of us. Neither one of us goes outside for anything.Jim Mardin, 98
Fast forward to August. I recently discovered an online podcast editing tool (Descript) that is so user friendly I was able to learn it and edit Jim’s podcast myself at home. So my podcast hiatus has ended and I’m delighted to finally share Jim’s stories with you.
He sometimes refers to himself as a professional volunteer because he’s been doing it most of his life. He volunteered for the Maine National Guard in high school and again in 1947 when he helped with traffic control during the Maine Forest Fires that year. In 1950, he volunteered for the Civil Air Patrol and for two years flew small planes on search missions. He rode with Maine State Troopers for 15 years as a volunteer member of its reserve program. After retirement, in addition to his work at MaineHealth, he joined the HIlls Beach (Biddeford, Maine) Volunteer Fire Department.
Jim is also a veteran of World War II, serving in the Army’s 60th AAA Bn (AW) from 1940 to 1945. He landed on Omaha Beach at Normandy and was in Czechoslovakia when the war ended. Until the pandemic hit, he was a volunteer at the Maine Military Museum in South Portland. He wrote a lengthy guide book for the tour guides that lists all of the articles on display; on the museum’s website, he’s listed as the archivist.
I could go on and on about Jim, not only about his volunteer work but also about the experiences he’s had these past 98 years — from being boarded at age 5 with a family in Gorham to flying small planes to raising a family with Bettie and then losing her to Alzheimer’s years later. I’ll let him tell you, instead. I was spellbound listening to his stories and I think you will be, too.
Listen to my conversation with Jim Mardin
Where else you can find and subscribe to the podcast
- Apple Podcasts
- Google Play
- Check your favorite listening app. (Search for Catching Health with Diane Atwood)
Read a transcript of our conversation
Writing his own story
Jim has been writing about some of his life experiences using an online program called StoryWorth. He was given a subscription as a Christmas gift. For one year, he got a weekly email with story prompts and he’d write out his answers. Subscribers can choose to have the stories sent to designated recipients and/or made into a hardcover book (which Jim did). If you’d like more information, here’s the link to the website: StoryWorth.