Caring for the Community: Madeline Kochman

February 25, 2011 5:22:20 AM PST
You can't help but smile when you meet Madeline Kochman.

Her warmth, kindness and wry sense of humor really stand out, but at 88, it's the incredible amount of volunteer work she does that is so impressive.

"I just feel that I do it from the heart, I can't help it," Kochman said.

Her dedication to helping others began more than 40 years ago while she and her husband ran a small retail business in Oak Park. Madeline became a volunteer with Meals on Wheels. From there, she joined West Suburban Pads, an agency dedicated to helping the homeless. At the same time, she was volunteering in a variety of capacities at her synagogue, Oak Park Temple.

"I was astonished by her enthusiasm and her energy from the first time that I met her," said Cantor Julie Yugend-Green, Oak Park Temple. "She never, ever stops moving."

That's especially true on Thursdays, when Madeline spends time at the Oak Park Vital Bridges location, an agency that provides food, nutritional counseling and social work for clients living with HIV and AIDS.

"She comes in at exactly 9 o'clock in the morning, and she prepares the fruits and the vegetables, gets the front desk ready with all the paperwork that needs to be done. And she's very good at handling that; she treats our clients with care, consideration. She's very precise, and she just loves her job," said Bertha L. Gonzalez, food program coordinator, Oak Park Vital Bridges.

Others noticed Kochman's hard work and dedication, and she began receiving awards for her years of service. She's reluctant to show them off, not wanting to appear boastful, but she will tell you about an amusing acceptance speech referencing her husband's frustration with all her volunteer work!

"'If you don't stop volunteering, I'm going to break your right arm!' I looked at him in front of all the people I knew and said, 'You know what, Henry? My left arm is still working,'" said Kochman.

Madeline's husband of nearly 60 years passed away in 2005. It was shortly thereafter that she made the decision that for her 85th birthday she would be bat mitzvahed.

"We started weekly lessons learning to chant Torah and working on reading without the vowels; it's very difficult to do this and for an adult to learn a new skill is very, very humbling," Yugend-Green said.

"The greatest satisfaction I'm getting is that I've inspired other people, and they've told me that you're never too old," Kochman said.

Never too old is right. Madeline has traveled to Israel with the temple twice. She takes classes at Triton College and still finds time for family and friends, but her heart is helping her community.

"She's humble, she's caring, considerate, she loves what she's doing, not only here but in other aspects of her life. She gives it her all, and she gives it without expecting anything in return," Gonzalez said.

Kochman said she gets all of her energy from sheer motivation and a half-hour nap every day.