At 85 years of age, Florence Triendl may move a bit slower, but she certainly still is on the go.
One morning each week, Triendl tutors first graders at Noble Elementary School. On a different morning each week, she can be found at the Allen Eiry Senior Center involved in tai chi, a method of exercise. Once each month she is among a group of between 12 and 20 participants in a book discussion group that meets at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.
At other times Triendl might be writing about her many life experiences, conducting genealogy research, sewing, or communicating with friends over the Internet or through letters.
PHOTO BY KEVIN RISNER
Flo Triendl has decorated her apartment with items from around the world. She has artwork and mementoes on display from South Africa and Austria.
"The nicest thing I can think of is tutoring kids at Noble Elementary School," Triendl said. "I love those kids. It's not that I spend a lot of time with them. It's just that I think they are substitute great-grandchildren. The nice thing about it is I get to be with them for close to two hours, the same ones, and that makes a difference."
Triendl said she tutors one, two or three students each week. They work on reading, math games and fine motor skills.
"The main object is one to one," Triendl said. "I'm interested in their new tooth, and their sisters and their pets, the whole nine yards. The teacher can't do that with every kid. She sends the ones who need a relationship. I get the same kids, I get them for a hour and a half."
Mike Steyer is principal of Noble Elementary.
"She's a great lady," Steyer said. "She comes in during all kinds of weather. We enjoy her. The kids really enjoy her. She loves the kids. That's obvious, and they really enjoy her, too. It's just great having her there. She is a great role model for the kids."
Triendl enjoys the tai chi group as well. She said she did yoga in the past, but yoga required laying on the floor, which she prefers not to do now.
"Tai chi, you are on your feet," Triendl said. "You move your arms, you move your neck, you move your legs. It's Chinese (in) origin."
Even if the exercise was not positive, Triendl likely still would enjoy the activity.
"That is a fantastic group of people," Triendl said. "They are like family to me. Once a week, one hour."
Kathy Nutter is one of the teachers of the tai chi class Triendl attends.
"She is a breath of sunshine," Nutter said. Nutter said she enjoys talking to Triendl about a wide range of subjects and experiences.
The library discussion group meets monthly. Each member of the group reads the same book before each discussion. Triendl said bad weather is likely the culprit if she misses. The group does not meet during December.
Triendl spends a lot of time writing. She has a lot to write about. In writing about her personal and family history, she asks questions and seeks to answer them. She knows her words are to be read someday by others.
"Every place I've been, I write," Triendl said. "There's a book for every place I've ever been; journals, pictures. If this was happening, what do you suppose people thought? What do you suppose they did? Like my grandmother in one year lost six children to diphtheria. I write asking questions. How must she have felt? What else was happening in the country at that time? Who was left to do the farm work?"
The Toledo Library has agreed to take Triendl's books after she dies. The books are many, because Triendl has been many places and experienced many things.
Triendl was born in Toledo. She has never been married. She has lived parts of her life in Vienna, Brussels, Johannesburg and Durban in South Africa, Chicago, Maryland and Florida. Triendl finally moved to Tiffin in 2005 to be near six cousins.
"Life is good," Triendl said. "Cherish your memories. They are part of who you are. Don't let anybody tell you you live in the past. The past is part of the present."
Triendl's apartment is decorated and furnished with items from around the world. She has a chair made by the Toledo furniture company where her father worked for 42 years. She has a small wooden nativity scene carved by hand by one of her cousins from Tirol, a province of Austria. She has artwork and mementoes from Zulu friends she met in South Africa. On a table in her living room she has a card with a short saying printed in French. Triendl, who is fluent in French, translated.
"When you talk with people, probably you make them happy," Triendl said. "When you listen to them, you definitely make them happy."
In 1948, after World War II, Triendl enlisted to work with the American Marshall Plan to help rebuild countries devastated by the war in Europe. When Triendl enlisted as part of the Marshall Plan in 1948, she had no idea where she would be sent.
"This was 1948; the war was over," Triendl said. "I started getting correspondence from my family in Tirol (in Austria). I had this fantasy I would be sent there, but not believing it. So I enlisted. When you enlist you don't know where you are going to be sent.
"We landed at Bremerhaven (in Germany); 18 days crossing the Atlantic dodging mines. We went to Frankfurt to find out what our assignment would be. Mine was Vienna. I could hardly believe it."
From 1948 until 1951, Triendl lived and worked in Vienna. She said the German she spoke at home as a youth came flowing back and made it easy for her to interact with the Austrians.
Before Triendl enlisted, she had become involved in a group called Young Christian Workers.
YCW organized workers to bring Christian principles to the workplace, to help improve working conditions. YCW was founded in Belgium in 1912 by a small group, including Catholic priest Joseph Cardijn. By 1957, YCW became an international movement with some Catholic Church support.
During one summer she hitchhiked 687 miles to Brussels, Belgium, after she learned the YCW was headquartered there.
"I went to Brussels to learn what this organization did on an international level," Triendl said. "They convinced me to come back next year, quit my Marshall Plan job, move to Brussels and start working there, as a translator, later as an editor of one of their publications. Finally my job was to arrange the stay of foreign people who came from Asia and Africa to learn about how the movement was established, the method of the movement in Belgium. So I learned French. During the next seven years, I only spoke French."
Triendl was working in Brussels for the YCW when the organization became an international movement.
Triendl said she got tired of sitting behind a desk in Brussels, but she met young workers from South Africa she believed she could help. With the support of groups in America, France and Belgium, Triendl went to Johannesburg, South Africa to work for YCW. After six months the support ran out, but Triendl continued her mission by working part-time and full-time jobs to support herself.
"I had a lot of part-time jobs," Triendl said.
She spent three years in Johannesburg and another nine years in the coastal city of Durban in South Africa. Already fluent in English, German and French, Triendl learned to speak Zulu in South Africa.
Triendl was in South Africa during an important decade of the country's history, during apartheid. African workers had the right to join unions, Triendl said, but they could not strike. Boycotts became the method to bring about important changes in working conditions. Potato boycotts were effective to improve working conditions for African farmers. Other boycotts helped make changes as well. Triendl said the YCW was not the leading organization, but its members were part of the efforts to bring about change.
In Johannesburg, Triendl worked with younger workers, age 16 to marriage. In Durban she worked with older workers in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
"We met weekly," Triendl said. "The idea was, each one had to say what happened at work that week. Then they had to decide if it needed to be changed for their safety or their comfort. Then each one had to made a decision. What are you going to do? Who else are you going to involve? Then there was a report back."
While Triendl was in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was tried and placed in prison. After apartheid ended years later and after Mandela spent 27 years in prison, Mandela eventually was elected president of South Africa.
"I was there during the trials, but I was advised not to attend the trials, because everybody who did was followed, maybe harassed," Triendl said.
"One night I went to a poetry reading of poetry by Alan Paton. He's a very famous South African author. While we were sitting in the apartment, there was a knock at the door. Six South African militia with stun guns loaded and pointed at us entered, searched us. We had to give them everything we brought with us. Then they followed each one of us home. After that my phone was tapped."
By 1969, Triendl and her associates were being seriously harassed by South African police. One of Triendl's associates was arrested, others were visited by police. When Triendl's home was searched and she believed she would be deported, she decided it was time to leave South Africa.
Back in the USA
Triendl returned to the U.S. and settled in Chicago. She earned a degree from Roosevelt University and went to work for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, focusing her efforts on foster care and adoption.
In1979, she moved to Florida to be near her parents who were in their declining years. She went to work for the Florida Department of Family Services. While there, she also worked as a part-time tutor in Tampa. For almost 20 years she tutored students in the rough part of Tampa, she said.
"It was a very drug-infested side of the city, but it was safe in the daytime," Triendl said. "They didn't have too many parent-teacher meetings at night."
Triendl also organized a YCW community among Haitians in Tampa.
By 2005, most of Triendl's friends in Florida had died. She took a month-long trip to visit friends in South Africa and Zambia before moving to Tiffin.
Triendl stays in touch with friends around the globe. She sends and receives e-mails and letters written in English, German and French.
Triendl said she was a community organizer in South Africa. Community is at the center of her philosophy. She is concerned people in the U.S. have lost something important in a culture of individualism.
Triendl said she took away an important lesson from YCW, that every person has dignity that has to be respected.
"The young person who leaves school and goes to work is for the first time in a totally unsheltered environment that does not exist to educate him, but exists to pull out all his mental or physical strength," Triendl said. "That doesn't exist to give back. It's to take. If you don't give that kid some support - emotional, moral, intellectual - that kid easily goes off the edge. Somehow this country doesn't seem to really get that."
Triendl's goals include indexing her books for the Toledo Library, researching information to be a better tutor and just surviving.
Triendl said a cheerful attitude is important to remain on the go in life - a cheerful attitude and a healthy support group.
"I'm not a preacher and I did not do a lot of religion stuff, but we were definitely taught that God created you unique, with dignity, but you cannot achieve it alone."