Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Meri Misko, Greendale Senior Social Club coordinator

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GREENDALE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Social connections are critical for senior citizens. They improve mental, emotional and physical health. But those connections have been harder to maintain during the pandemic.

Meri Misko runs the Greendale Senior Social Club. It keeps seniors active and connected, and they compare it to their own personal "Cheers."

"Hi, Lynn," Meri Misko's voice rings out with enthusiasm.

Misko is quick with a hello for everyone at the social club.

"Hi Floyd. Hi Karen! Hi, John," she calls as people arrive.

Longtime member Jeanne Werner knows Misko well.

"It's like that old TV program, where everybody knows your name," Werner said, referring to the show, "Cheers."

And Werner said Misko is always glad you came.

"I don't think there's anyone in this room that hasn't benefitted from having Meri in their life," Werner said.

At the start of each session, Misko leads an exercise class.

"Long, strong arms! Let's use some muscle power here," she instructs.

For 25 years, Misko has been the club coordinator, leading the exercise class and group activities.

"We have speakers once a month, we have bingo once a month, we play different games," Misko said.

There are even fresh vegetables from local community gardens.

"Hey guys, we have tons of veggies," Misko said to the group, encouraging them to take some home.

The social club is part of Greendale's Parks and Rec Department, where Misko has done some of everything over the last 38 years.

"Swim and water aerobics, body works, kids' karate, sporty for shorty, come play with me," she said, listing off just a few.

But it's the relationships built here that keep her going.

"It means everything. That's why if I ever think about retiring, I never even want to think about that. I love my job," Misko said.

That feeling is mutual.

"Everybody, I think everybody feels the same way about her," Werner said.

Werner said she couldn’t nominate Misko for sainthood, so she wrote us a letter, asking us to tell Meri's story.

"I just wanted you to know it wasn't just me who felt that way," Werner said.

She got it signed by 22 other club members. We showed Misko the letter and asked her what she thought.

"You know, you know what I think? I'm really lucky. To have a job that I love. And to have all these friends," she said, obviously touched.

She does have a lot of friends. The club has more than 50 members. It meets from 10-3 on Tuesdays and Fridays, inside St. Luke's Lutheran Church. Misko said members range in age from their 60s to their 90s.

"Great job, everybody. Super work," she calls out during exercise class.

"They're not coming because they really don't want to miss a workout," she said. "They're coming because they don't want to miss the socialization, as well."

During the pandemic, she worked hard to keep the connections among members strong.

"I had my list and I just rotated calling everybody through that whole time, I kept in touch with them. They called me when they were lonesome," she said.

It's a habit she's kept even now that they can get together again.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't make phone calls to somebody or they don't call me, or they don't text me," she said.

Twice a week, she creates a space to take a break from worries.

"This is a place you come and can forget about all that and just be yourself for a while," Werner said.

A place where everybody really does know your name.

"I know that it makes a difference for them. I do. And it makes a difference for me, so it's all good," Misko said.

For more information on the Greendale Senior Social Club, visit https://gpr.greendale.k12.wi.us/seniors.html.

If you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.

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