By Wendy Nugent. Harvey County Now
NEWTON—Norma Stoltzfus came to the Newton area from Puerto Rico decades ago because one of her sisters attended Hesston College and she was lonely for family.
Then, Stoltzfus started working at Kansas Christian Home in 1977, blazing the trail for some of her other siblings, as there are four sisters and 11 brothers in her family, to work there too. Stoltzfus retired in 2012, working there for 35 years.
“When I start here, I was working in housekeeping and laundry,” said Stoltzfus, the oldest offspring in her family. “It was about 10 years when I start to be supervisor [of housekeeping and laundry].”
Her work back home included taking care of family.
“I was like a second mother because I take care of so many kids,” she said.
Now, two of Stoltzfus’s brothers, Gady Espada and Noel Espada, work there, too. Gady, the youngest in the family, has worked at the retirement community for 33 years and is a groundkeeper. Noel came from Puerto Rico in 1983 and started working at KCH that same year, while Norma came from Puerto Rico in 1976 and began her KCH employment the following year. Gady traveled to the states in 1989, which is the same year he gained employment at KCH.
“When I started working here, I took care of the floors,” he said, adding that for two and a half years, he worked from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in grounds and then 2 to 10 p.m. on the floors.
Noel has been at KCH for 39 years.
“I started working here as a groundkeeper and a floor tech and then assistant supervisor,” he said. “Now, I’m the plant operation assistant director.”
Noel plans to retire in five years and Gady has another 14 years to go.
Between the siblings, they have 107 years working there.
Before KCH, there was Puerto Rico.
“Norma was my teacher in third grade in Puerto Rico,” Noel said.
“That’s why they came here because I was here,” Stoltzfus said. “I stay here and all my brothers came here—nine of them.”
Stoltzfus and her husband from Pennsylvania decided to remain here.
“And I found my wife here,” Gady said, adding she’s from Mexico.
Noel brought his wife from Puerto Rico, but they divorced.
Their nieces also worked there and at one time, five family members were employed there–Noel and four sisters.
Noel thinks that after he retires, he’ll probably stay there working part-time.
One of the things Gady likes about working there is all the free learning they get, like regarding codes they need to adhere to and how to do things faster. Noel said the supervisor helps employees with electrical and plumbing. He said they can do each other’s jobs in case someone doesn’t show up for work.
“You have to be patient to work here and you have to love what you do,” Gady said. “Every day is something different.”
Like, when he clocks in, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen that day. He likes the variety.
“That’s good,” he said.
“It’s better than working in a factory,” Noel said, adding he likes the variety too, like the day before, he was doing plumbing and that day, he fixed a toilet. “To be working here this long, this is like a second home.”
They also said they don’t have favorite residents.
“We treat everybody the same,” Noel said.
Stoltzfus said she likes to work in housekeeping and laundry.
“The girls are still here and they liked working with me,” she said.
That was evident in the hugs they gave her when she recently visited there.
Also, while at KCH, Stoltzfus planned fiestas for residents, complete with dancers and mariachis.
When the siblings started working at KCH, the apartments weren’t on campus yet—there were just Duncan Lane and the main building. The rest was an alfalfa field.
They have good memories of the place. Gady and Noel recalled a story about the ice storm of 2005 or 2006 when families in the area didn’t have electricity, so KCH let them stay in the basement, where they ran a generator for 72 straight hours.
They didn’t say exactly what their best times have been there.
“Everything,” Gady said.
“I agree,” Noel said.
The pandemic changed a lot at KCH and it was hard to see families visit their relatives at that time. Families had to communicate through window glass while taking on the phone, Stoltzfus said.
“It was hard to see that,” she added.