Sharing Life's Stories is a Benefit of Living at The Oaks
By Renee Burrell
Conversations in the lounges at The Oaks of Clearwater could never be dull when getting to know residents like Marina (86) and Mirko (94) Zivolich who moved to the states after World War II
The Oaks of Clearwater has independent living accommodations, assisted living, and a nursing care facility located on bay front property at 420 Bay Avenue. The Oaks twenty four hour supervised assisted living area offers trained support staff to assist with household chores, bathing, dressing, and medications.
All residents of The Oaks enjoy freedom from the responsibilities of home ownership, and the headaches that can come with maintenance and repairs. On top of that, many health questions residents have are assessed quickly there by the nursing and resident assistant personnel, eliminating rides to the doctor's office and long waits.
A big benefit for residents is the bay view they can enjoy from their apartments or villas, but perhaps a bigger one is that they can enjoy each other's company talking and participating in recreational programs and outings.
Jim Gillespie, Executive Director of The Oaks, which is owned by TJM Properties, accredits not only his 200 employees for making living at The Oaks a good choice for seniors, but also the residents The Oaks has already attracted. "One of the great contributions here is the diversity of our residents. They are from all walks of life. Some are very wealthy and some need financial assistance."
Many have fascinating tales to tell. Said Gillespie, "We have one resident who was an executive chef for Alan Greenspan. We also have with us several high ranking retired government officials, business people, artists and authors and restauranteurs."
One resident, Marina Zivolich formerly of New Jersey, worked in New York City on 7th Avenue for the design house of Molly Parnes. "I worked for the couture line, on samples. My boss Gina would create a mock up of the design in muslin. Parnes would approve it and give it to me to chose the final fabric, shrink it, mark the design on organza and do the pinning. Then I'd give it to the finisher."
Marina said someone famous was always coming in to see Parnes. "The finisher would come and tell us and one by one, we'd go into the showroom pretending to hang up a dress or something to see them. Lady Bird Johnson was friendly with Mrs. Parnes and came in often. I saw President Johnson with her and thought the vice president's wife Mrs. Humphrey was very nice."
Hearing Marina describe her life before coming to the United States is a mini-lesson in history and political science. She grew up on Istria, the largest peninsula between the Adriatic Sea and the Gulf of Trieste in the town of Umag, Yugoslavia, now Croatia.
At the end of WW I Istria was part of fascist Italy and Marina and her mother spoke Italian. Her father was a merchant sailor who jumped ship and planned to work in the United States and return home with his savings. The Great Depression and an injury that required hospitalization, kept him from coming back, which saddened her.
Marina recalls her childhood with a mix of missing her father and loving her mother and their home on the water. (Marina was named after an aunt that died from tuberculosis before she was born, but her name is ironic, considering where she was born and where she now resides along Clearwater's bay.) Marina said while growing up she and her friends would ride bikes to 'the point' of the peninsula. She said, "I loved my bike and washed it like it was a Cadillac. In spring, I'd be so happy riding and singing all the way to the point. Sometimes we brought a gramophone with us. Because we thought no one could see us, though the gossip lady who hung out her window all day did, we'd share puffs of a cigarette we pitched in to get. Someone's sister had left town and came back a socialite and taught us how!"
In her late teens Marina won a trip to Rome and went in spite of the dangers of war. Part of the trip included Marina and her teacher seeking shelter near Bologna from a bomb attack. But she remembers it fondly all in all.
"At around the age of 19 I was learning to be a seamstress. I started doing alterations and kept learning more. At that time we were under Mussolini, who cared very much for the youth. He would sponsor contests and I won one and traveled to Rome. I represented the providence of Pola. . . and enjoyed meeting girls from all over Italy. We all talked, in spite of our different dialects."
Marina described Rome and Vatican City as being much more enjoyable to visit then with no crowds and freedom to go into sites that are no longer open to the public. According to Marina, "At that time Rome was not like it is today. The Piazza San Pietro was empty. There were no autobuses--nothing. We were admitted into the catacombs of the Vatican where Saint Peter and the popes are entombed, and toured the Borghese Villa, and Tivoli unimpeded. It would be impossible for anyone today to see as much as we were able to in one trip back then."
More traveling came when Marina found a job that would take her by ferry back and forth from Umag to Trieste, Italy. "I had a pretty good singing voice and sang over Radio Trieste. On one trip, as soon as the boat took off, an American plane flew over and saw its swastika and fired on us. The Americans must have thought the boat carried German soldiers. I don't know if they were misinformed. There were a couple of soldiers but mostly civilian passengers like me were on board. I moved to the 3rd class section in the bottom of the boat then felt commotion on the upper decks. Soon the captain was announcing for everyone to come up and jump overboard. He turned the boat around toward shore and we were expected to get into the water quickly because the boat might explode."
Marina said she was petrified about jumping, but remembered that earlier her mother had given her for protection a picture of Our Lady of Sorrows, Santa Maria Addolorata, whom her town of Umag venerated. Marina said, "I walked like a hand was guiding me and I threw myself into the water and sunk to the harbor floor. I invoked our lady and prayed to her to please save me."
Marina was able to swim to the shore and then climb a hill to reach where townspeople who had seen the incident from the coast gathered to help. She borrowed a friend's bike to hurry home and let her mother know she was all right.
At the age of 29 Marina had a better experience with Americans. She was reunited with her father in the states for a visit and was permitted by the US government to stay when she claimed she didn't want to go back home because Yugoslavia was a communist country. Her father arranged for her to live in a boarding house run by an Italian family someone recommended. Mirko Zivolich lived there too.
Marina and Mirko married and had a lovely wedding. Said Marina, "The landlord's daughter was maid of honor and their nephew was best man. As a present, they threw us a dinner party."
Mirko worked as a pastry chef at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City. But before arriving in America, he served as a soldier and fought in Ethiopia and was taken as a prisoner of war.
About Mirko's life, Marina said, "If he tells his story, we'd never finish!"
For more information about The Oaks of Clearwater, phone 727-445-4700, or go to: www.theoaksofclearwater.com
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