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    The McGilvarys

    By Meals on Wheels America

    Words by Andrew J. Williams III

    The Meals on Wheels network thrives on a consistent drumbeat of investment, volunteer recruitment efforts, new collaboration models and continuous innovation. 

    The McGilvarys' journey is a beautiful reminder of the who behind why we do what we do.

    A frequent knock on the door from a Meals on Wheels volunteer reminds the couple who’ve spent a lifetime together that they are not alone in caring for each other; it’s a lifeline that allows them to age at home with grace and dignity. 

    To age is inevitable; to age with someone is a gift: someone to hold our trembling hands, remember what we’ve forgotten, hold our gaze, sit together in silence with, and hold back the awful loneliness that many face as they age—someone to give us the strength to mend when our hearts or bodies need healing.

    This is a story about love found, loss, lives well lived and two souls intertwined in sickness and health.

    The New Frontier

    Frank McGilvary, a native of Buffalo, New York—the birthplace of Buffalo Wings and the home of the country’s oldest urban parks system—was 5 years old during World War 2. 

    Frank’s family eventually traded the bitter cold of the northeast for the Bluegrass State, resettling in Louisville, Kentucky, where he spent his childhood. 

    On January 3, 1959, Alaska was christened the 49th U.S. State—a milestone in American history that gave rise to the term “the lower 48.” In 1960, the state hired Frank, who’d just completed 8 years in the Army Reserve after college, including a summer as a Merchant Marine. 

    It was his first time on an airline—a journey that became a 24-hour expedition across the country on the now defunct Eastern Airlines: Louisville to Chicago, Chicago to Seattle, and finally, and mercifully, Seattle to Anchorage. 

    “It was awesome,” Frank says of his first impression of the state. “I saw mountains…just so vast of a country.” 

    The population of Alaska was 200,000 in 1960 and 100,000 in the Greater Anchorage area. Today, according to the 2021 Census, the number has ballooned to more than 730,000. 

    Frank first lived in Anchorage and then Fairbanks, where he recalls enduring a brutal string of cold weather his first winter—stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day— including 5 to 6 consecutive days of negative 50 to 60 degrees. 

    The only relief was days that climbed to negative 30-degree days, accompanied by rainfall, which became treacherous sheets of ice.  

    In Fairbanks, Frank, a civil engineer and pioneer of Alaska, joined a team at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, specializing in studying raw materials and foundations. A career highlight included traveling to Anchorage in 1964 after the famous Good Friday Earthquake in Southern Alaska, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake and the second most powerful to hit a region in history. It lasted for four minutes, causing significant damage to structures and killing 115 people. 

    Frank and his team responded by surveying the damage to buildings and bridges, which would aid recovery efforts. 

    Frank also served on the team leading the route selection study for the trans-Alaska pipeline in 1968. 

    Frank and D.A.

    In 1962, Frank and his wife D.A. (Dorothy Anne) met at a going-away party for a colleague leaving for Antarctica. According to Frank, D.A. shares her first name and birthday, February 15th, with her mother and the family nicknamed her D.A. to make family interactions less confusing. It stuck. 

    Frank and D.A., who’ve been married for 61 years, had seven children, including Randy, a talented engineer and aspiring PhD student who was tragically killed in a car accident in 1995—an unimaginable loss that nothing can prepare you to handle. 

    “It was tragic, one of the low points of our life,” Franks says.

    It’s a scar on their hearts that still feels raw. They’ve found comfort with time, building a life together and watching their beautiful family grow. 

    Frank and D.A. have remained deeply entrenched in their community throughout their time in Fairbanks, including volunteering for the local food bank. Frank is a Lions Club member, coordinating various volunteer service activities. He’s also a member of the Pioneers of Alaska, a local historian organization, and often serves as the designated chauffeur for many of their 23 grandchildren. 

    In 2016, their lives changed when D.A. suffered the first of two strokes. Over the years, they’ve balanced a daunting schedule of hospital and hospice stays, doctor’s visits, and rehab. They’ve also survived two bouts of COVID and Frank’s diagnosis of a rare and slow-spreading form of blood cancer called Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia.

    Following the pandemic, Frank learned about his local Meals on Wheels program in Fairbanks during visits to the senior center, where the program operates and where they would regularly volunteer and participate in programming. He and his wife were eligible to receive meals.

    Frank and D.A. initially picked up the meals themselves before the program’s driver fleet expanded, enabling the couple to get home deliveries—a welcome change that helped streamline their busy lives. The program regularly delivered vital, nutritious, delicious meals—emphasizing delicious. 

    D.A., because of her multiple strokes, can no longer cook, and Frank is now the primary caregiver in the home, a role he happily takes on, save the cooking.  

    “[Before Meals on Wheels] I was cooking,” Frank says. “I lost a lot of weight. I was about 240 pounds and went down to under 180. Part of it was my blood cancer, and part of it was my terrible cooking. Meals on Wheels has been good for us.” 

    Receiving Meals on Wheels is a truly full-circle experience for two people who’ve given back so much to their community.

    Frank wasn’t surprised to discover a local Meals on Wheels program. It is part of the fabric of the Fairbanks community, a place full of sturdy people who care for their own, especially their most vulnerable. 

    In 1967, a flood severely damaged the old St. Joseph’s Hospital. During fundraising efforts, so many community members provided financial support that the city built a new hospital without going into debt. 

    “There's probably not many communities that would do something like that,” Frank says. “They did it in Fairbanks.



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