THE ELDER ADVOCATE
THE WISDOM KEEPERS – GRANDPARENTS
National Grandparents Day was declared an official holiday on August 3, 2978 by President Jimmy Carter. It is celebrated on the Sunday following Labor Day as representative as the “autumn” years of life.
The history of Grandparents day is the epitome of grassroots advocacy initiated by the tireless efforts of one woman with unwavering support from her husband. It was not conceptualized as a commercial holiday as so many others, with sales of cards and flowers, but rather for a threefold purpose: a day for grandparents to be honored, to build awareness and appreciation for the knowledge and guidance grandparents can offer to children, and also a specific time for grandparents to bestow love on their grandchildren.
Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade was as woman of extraordinary compassion and empathy. She and her supportive husband, Joseph L. McQuade had 15 children, 43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. She credited her interest and passion for older adults as being inspired by her own grandmother who, after spending working long hours each day working on the family farm, would end her day by visiting elderly people in the community. She wrote in later years that she would often tag along with her grandma and always enjoyed the visits talking with older people. She credited those visits as the root of her love and respect for older people.
Mrs. McQuade always described herself as a “housewife”. Having no experience or training in advocacy she began her journey to establish Grandparents Day as a national holiday at the community level in 1970. She was unending in her resolve working tirelessly with civic, business, church and political leaders. As a result, in 1971 she was elected Vice-Chair of the West Virginia Committee on Aging which was followed by being appointed as a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging. Among other involvements and appointments, Mts. McQuade went on to serve as President of the Vocational Rehabilitation Foundation, Vice-President of the West Virginia Health Systems Agency, and was appointed to the Nursing Home Licensing Board. In 1973
In 1972, as a result of Mrs. McQuade’s work, President Richard Nixon proclaimed a National Shut-in Day and in 1973, her home state of West Virginia, declared Grandparents Day an official holiday. However, her work was not done. She was persuaded and encouraged to persevere in her work towards a larger goal. Her dream was realized when President Jimmy Carter declared the official holiday in 1978.
The proclamation for Grandparents Day reads in part:
“Grandparents are our continuing tie to the near-past, to the events and beliefs and experiences that so strongly affect our lives and the world around us. Whether they are our own or surrogate grandparents who fill some of the gaps in our mobile society, our senior generation also provides our society a link to our national heritage and traditions.
We all know grandparents whose values transcend passing fads and pressures, and who possess the wisdom of distilled pain and joy. Because they are usually free to love and guide and befriend the young without having to take daily responsibility for them, they can often reach out past pride and fear of failure and close the space between generations.”
Canada established Grandparents Day in 1995 to acknowledge the critical contribution of grandparents to “the structure of the family in the nurturing, upbringing and education of children” Including the US and Canada, Grandparents day is celebrated by 18 countries around the world.
A Canadian member of parliament spoke in support of the motion from a personal perspective with the following poignant words:
I do not hold grandparents to be glorified babysitters but rather as parents’ surrogates who bring love, a continuance of generational values, and a sense of the child’s worth to the integrity of the family… I was brought up by a grandparent. My parents both worked outside the home for most of my life. They needed to for economic reasons. It was my grandmother who nurtured me, gave me a sense of worth and molded in many ways the course my life was to take. My grandmother was my role model, my mentor, and my confidant.
The article mentions that an omission or oversight in the way the holiday is written actually serves a greater purpose. While Mother’s and Father’s Day both have apostrophes, there is no apostrophe in Grandparents day. Mrs. McQuade felt this was appropriate in that apostrophes convey possession and it was not her intention for the day to belong to grandparents. Rather, it was meant to be part of the greater good and social consciousness; a day on which the entire family celebrates and honors grandparents and a day to connect the generations, from the young to the elder and for the elder to the generations that follow them.
Several of Mrs. McQuaid’s children, grandchildren and great children remember her work and follow in her legacy.
Within the family unit, Mrs. McQuade’s vision included family gatherings, reunions or community events. However, on a National level she wanted the day to be a public declaration of the important role grandparents play in the family. Additionally, it is meant to be a day of giving, sharing oneself and imparting hopes, dreams and values to younger generations. The true meaning of legacy. Mrs. McQuaid’s vision for Grandparents Day has truly come to pass. It has gone beyond families. Schools and community groups are organizing Grandparents Day events but other organizations have begun to organize Intergenerational Day events at various times throughout the year so that children can not only show love and appreciation towards their grandchildren but show that same love and appreciation towards other older adults in their families and communities.
Generations United is a group out of Washington D.C, that encourages people of all ages to be involved in intergenerational civic oriented projects for the entire week following National Grandparents Day.
The Legacy Project www.legacyproject.org is a valuable resource that offers a Grandparents Day Activities and Planning Guide as well as a range of activities to promote intergenerational relationships.
Our elders, our grandparents, are a valuable natural resource. They are the true wisdom keepers and thus, deserve respect, dignity, quality treatment and caring. Our Loved Ones Matter….Indeed, they are our future selves.