I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Hrista Stamenkovic. When I used to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, the Stamenkovics' house was always the highlight of my route. The tiny couple, who immigrated from Serbia in 1962 and retained their beautifully thick accents, were always so warm and sweet to me. Mr. Stamenkovic had words of wisdom to share every time I visited, especially when I had my kids in tow. "Knowledge is the most important thing," he would tell them as he handed them a $5 bill (which he would never let us return, even when we protested). "Don't ever forget this. Don't ever stop learning and using your mind." He was a great example of this--he published a book "Innovative Shear Design" in 2002, at the age of 84, which revolutionized the concrete industry. When I arrived at his book-filled house, he was often reading, bent toward a large screen that magnified the pages.
Mr. Stamenkovic was very courtly towards me. He would kiss my hand, and then I would kiss his hand, and then he would give me a long, warm hug. "Don't ever get old," he would tell me, and kiss my hand again. When I decided to let go of my route, I didn't tell him at first that it was my last day, but he seemed to know. He gave me a longer hug than usual and told me "You keep me young." Then he said "I'll never forget you." I cried as I drove away. Every once in a while since then, I would see him from a distance, shuffling down the sidewalk, trailing his oxyen tanks, as I drove through his neighborhood. I would wave, but I don't think he ever saw me. I told myself that one day I would visit again, just to say hello, to find out more about his and his wife's life. I knew they must have some incredible stories. Then today I saw the obituary and my heart is still aching. Goodbye, Mr. Stamenkovic. I will never forget you, either.