WARWICK, RI — Nov. 1 proved a special night for Stephen Englert, 57, the first face people visiting Pilgrim Senior Center see when they enter.
That evening, the Narragansett Village resident was recognized at the Warwick City Council Meeting for nearly 39 years of service to the city, making his the longest tenure of any current employee.
“It’s such an honor to be with the city that long,” says Englert, a 1982 graduate of Pilgrim High School. His lifelong career began the following January after graduation, when he began working at City Hall Annex, followed by stints at the personnel department, Warwick Police Station, and 7.5 years at the Jonah Center. After that, he started at the Senior Center, where he has been working ever since.
Pilgrim Senior Center Director Meg Underwood not only describes him as ‘the face of the Senior Center,” but its heart and soul as well.
“He is a quiet man who has a fantastic sense of humor,” Underwood said. “When I presented to the City Council last week my throat became very dry and I struggled to finish the presentation. I began to cough and silently willed someone to bring me a bottle of water so I could finish without further embarrassment.”
A week later, Underwood was asked to speak on video for a brief cameo. “Before I began to speak, Stephen grinned wryly and, chuckling, whispered to me, ‘Would you like a drink of water first?’ ” she said.
Englert’s playful banter extends to other coworkers, including kitchen manager Christina Woodbine. “I have never seen him in a bad mood, always cheerful, happy, and comedic,” she said. “He has such a comedic way about him and is so kind-hearted and hospitable to anyone who approaches the front desk.”
She recollects a time where he showed his generosity to her 7-year old-son.
Christina would mention to Stephen how her son loved sports, especially football and Tom Brady.
“A few days later, (Stephen) approached me and gave me dozens of collectors sports cards from a wide variety of players from all sports,” she said. “It’s an honor to work alongside him. If more people had Steve’s attitude, the world would be a brighter and better place.”
His passion for the elderly population becomes evident as he speaks of the love he has for them and his chosen profession. Englert says he enjoys being around and seeing members of the community that stop by along with memories and stories he has accumulated over the years. “Every day I go in, I come out with a chuckle,” he said.
The compassion Englert has shown others over the years has been reciprocated. One of the most difficult parts of his job, he said, is his disability, but reports coming into contact with so many people who are patient and supportive.
Englert became physically disabled after being diagnosed with a brain tumor at 12. He had been experiencing symptoms such as headaches, lightheadedness, and feeling off-balance. As his condition worsened, he went through many tests before a CAT scan revealed a tumor. He spent 2-and-a-half months in the hospital as other problems appeared, including abscesses and meningitis. Since then, his right side has been paralyzed. Originally right handed, he had to start over and learn how to do everything left-handed.
Despite suffering intense headaches over the last 40 years, he continues to work four days a week at the Senior Center and plans on staying “as long as they’ll keep me,” he says.
Englert spent his first 7 years in Lincoln before his family moved to Warwick. One of three children, he says his brother and sister are still always there for him and have been a big help the whole way through.
Englert, a big sports fan with an impressive baseball card collection, still enjoys going to shows with his brother. Although he has no children of his own, his nieces and nephew hold a special place in his heart, he said.
Since starting with the city at 18, he has learned about the histories of countless people. He has listened to their struggles and triumphs, their joys and sorrows. Now, he’s had the opportunity to share some of his own story.
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