Saturday, June 12, 2004

Nearing 100, volunteer spreads cheer at hospitals

By Terry Kinney
The Associated Press

John Straus figures he's a lucky man. Lucky to have escaped Nazi Germany, lucky to have had a full, rewarding life - and lucky to be approaching his 100th birthday in November.

"I count my blessings every morning," Straus said. "I'm very happy that I'm still alive, doing what I can do."

Twice a week, Straus brings his good will to patients, staff and anxious families at two Cincinnati-area hospitals. Other days, he rides a stationary bicycle for half an hour.

"It keeps me young," he said.

The former business executive has been a hospital volunteer since he retired - at 80.

Straus spends Wednesday mornings in the gift shop at Jewish Hospital. On Fridays, he distributes magazines or snacks at Bethesda North. Alert and sprightly, he brightens the room and lifts spirits wherever he goes.

"I'm on parole from prison, and these guys with me are guards," he told a waiting room full of people in the endoscopy and cath lab department at Bethesda North. "Bagels are usually 50 cents, but my special today is two for 99."

He and Margo, his wife of 65 years, fled to England from Cologne, Germany, weeks before the start of World War II.

Mrs. Straus' mother died in a concentration camp. His mother made it to Holland, where she hid under floorboards in the bathroom of a friend's home when German soldiers came looking for Jews.

Eventually, she joined the couple in Cincinnati, where she lived until two months before her 99th birthday, when she had a stroke while playing cards.

"If I take after her, I'll be OK," Straus said.

Mrs. Straus volunteers Tuesdays at Children's Hospital Medical Center, and drives her husband from their home in Loveland to his hospital rounds. Being chauffeured is about his only concession to age.

"I gave up driving two years ago - for other people's safety," Straus said. About the only thing that keeps Straus from making his hospital rounds is a yearly winter vacation in Florida.

"I'm in good health, and I'm glad I can help," he said. "I make the best of every day."

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