(JTA) — Joe Elowsky’s spring-making company was beloved by its employees, many of whom had been hired because Elowsky was committed to employing people with special needs. One former worker, who had been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed, came back every year with his wife and child to visit his former boss at the company’s Long Island factory.
After Elowsky retired from Ajax Wires Specialty Company and handed the reins to his children, he was at loose ends, sitting in front of the TV for hours every day. His wife, Marsha, said she knew this wasn’t the right retirement plan for the man she met when she was 15.
“I said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Marsha recalled. “I told him to go help the retirement community.”
So five days a week, Elowsky began assisting what Marsha called “his harem” of older men and women who could no longer drive and needed to shop, get to doctor’s offices or make beauty parlor appointments.
The phrase elicited some consternation when Marsha used it with people who were unfamiliar with it, but she always clarified that her husband’s work was purely a platonic arrangement. It was also one that enabled him to help other seniors in his community. If he saw that someone he was picking up wasn’t looking well taken care of, he told the people who ran the retirement community at the Mid-Island Y JCC to check in on them.
“They adored him, and he adored them,” Marsha said. “They gave him a reason to get up every day.”
At the Plainview Jewish Center, Elowsky was called “the man with the Golden Hands” because he created elaborate pieces of scenery for the plays they put on, one time even turning a forklift into an elevator and a parachute jump. Elowsky loved to build things, and for 60 years he kept a model railroad that took up half the basement. When the couple moved to their retirement community and gave up the house, the railroad was dismantled, but a black locomotive still made the move as a keepsake.
“He never thought that much of himself, but everybody else did,” Marsha said. “He had never thought of himself as being the wonderful kind of person that he was.”
The couple met at a college party, which Marsha had attended as an impish 15-year-old and Elowsky, 18 at the time, was grumpy because of his broken arm. Their first date was a week later, and they were married for 64 years before Elowsky died of COVID-19 on March 21, 2020, at age 85.
The couple traveled far and wide, first in an RV all over the United States with their four daughters and an 85-pound Malamute dog named Snowflake, and more recently on a Viking tour of the Danube. They had planned to take a Viking tour of the Mississippi, but then COVID came, and Elowsky was one of the first in their community to die of the disease.
“He had beautiful curly hair,” his wife recalled. “And I would cut his hair. And of course he was losing it. And every time I had to cut it I kept saying I’m going to paste it on top. And he had the most gorgeous blue eyes. And he had what we call the hitchhiker’s thumb; it bent. And every time I had a baby I would examine her to see what of him she had. He was just such a sweetheart.”
Elowsky is survived by his children, Patricia, Susan, Barbara and Karen; sons-in-law Steven, Dave and Joel; daughter-in-law Emily; and grandchildren Toby, Jackie, Jon, Sammi, Jo, Jordan, Alyson and Marlea.
He is also survived by his friends in the ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out), who got together every Tuesday for lunch at a local diner until the pandemic began, and by his synagogue community. The Plainview Jewish Center will be placing a plaque by his regular seat to commemorate his service to the community, and Marsha collects donations of food every Monday from Whole Foods to give to soup kitchens and food pantries.