Contact: Sheila Coté
Phone: (586) 783 0959
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2022
Meals on Wheels recipient gifts hand-carved wooden portrait to Macomb County Office of Senior Services
The Macomb County Office of Senior Services and Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel were presented today with a piece of art from a local Meals on Wheels recipient.
“It’s an honor to have our Office of Senior Services recognized in this way,” Hackel said. “This team provides important programs, and they make real connections with our residents. The artwork we received is a testament to that work and shows our commitment making an impact with local seniors.”
The hand-carved portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson was created by Elmer Zurakowski, an 89-year-old resident of Warren who taught himself the wood-carving medium more than 50 years ago. Zurakowski carved the portrait as a thank you for the OSS Meals on Wheels program, which Johnson helped develop.
In January 2021, Zurakowski started receiving Meals on Wheels through the Macomb County Office of Senior Services. Zurakowski said he’s come to thoroughly enjoy the healthy, well-balanced meals. Elmer wanted to thank Meals on Wheels and the OSS, the best way he knew how.
This January, Shelly Bania, program coordinator for the OSS, suggested Elmer carve a portrait of former President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Older American Act into law, a catalyst for the Meals on Wheels program as we know it today.
Elmer immediately went to work, and a couple of weeks later the portrait was complete.
“I was stunned that they wanted to do it. But well, that’s what I made it for. I don’t keep any of my carvings. Most of them are gifts,” he said. “I’m very thankful that they will like it, I hope, and that makes me happy.”
“We were so pleased to accept Elmer’s kind offer of a wood carving that we can display in our office,” Office of Senior Services Program Manager Nicole Urban said. “Lyndon B. Johnson is the president that signed the original Older Americans Act that launched senior nutrition programs.”
“The first thing I remember him carving was a stork,” said Elmer’s daughter Karil. “By the mid to late-70s, he was doing portraits. He always went to the state fair to display his portraits. He loved the state fair. And that’s how he started doing the police trooper of the year carvings.”
At those state fair events, Zurakowski was constantly approached by fairgoers about his carvings and whether he could make a portrait of them. From those conversations, Zurakowski came up with the idea of carving portraits of Michigan State Police troopers. He approached State Fair administrators about the idea, and the connection was made with the police force. Now, each year, Zurakowski carves a portrait of the award-winning trooper of the year. Elmer is sent a photo of the winner, creates the carving, and mails it to the winner. He’s been performing that labor of love for more than 30 years, Karil said.
“I have two jobs – my part-time job, and keeping my dad carving,” Karil said. “It’s important for him to keep busy at this age, and this is what he loves to do. He’s probably done hundreds of carvings.”
It’s no surprise Zurakowski likes to keep busy. He only retired from his job in tool and die with General Motors in 2019, when he was 86 years old. He was the longest-serving hourly employee ever at General Motors, working for 67.4 years at places like Fisher Body and the Warren Technical Center.
“Elmer is an amazing man, from his more than 67 years working at General Motors to his work as an artisan,” said Hackel. “I’m sure the Office of Senior Services will find a great place to display his wood carving of Lyndon Johnson.”
Karil said her dad was a little embarrassed about receiving the attention he’s garnered for donating his carving.
“He doesn’t know what the big deal is about. He’s a little introverted, and he likes to thank people,” Karil said. “When he gives them away, it’s a thank you, whether it’s a veteran or a police officer, it’s a thank you. That’s really what it is. And he wanted to thank Meals on Wheels. Now he doesn’t understand why he’s being thanked for a thank you.”
To learn more about the Macomb County Office of Senior Services, and its Meals on Wheels program, visit macombgov.org/seniors.
Photos from the artwork presentation are available here.
Photo 1 (left to right): Shelly Bania, Meals on Wheels volunteer; Sheila Coté, director, Macomb County Office of Senior Services; Elmer Zurakowski; and County Executive Mark Hackel
Photo 2: The hand carved portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson
Photo 3: Elmer Zurakowski speaks to County Executive Mark Hackel
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