Wish StoriesOphelia Honors Her Father’s WW II Service and Legacy
Ophelia, age 71, knew one thing for certain while she was growing up: If there was anything her father could do for his family, there was no doubt he’d do it.
Ophelia and her four siblings grew up in a predominantly African American neighborhood in the Atlanta area. To provide for their family, her father worked at the local Army base during the day and at a packing plant at night. He bravely served in the United States Army during World War II.
Her father’s hardworking mindset and determination did not go unnoticed; it has guided Ophelia’s choices and shaped the woman she is today. With his encouragement, Ophelia attended Albany State College, where she proudly earned a degree in accounting.
“I credit my dad for my career,” she said. “He kept telling us, with his 3rd-grade education, he wanted us to go further than he did— that’s what got me my degree.”
After graduating, Ophelia worked in the banking industry for 25 years in different roles at the Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Dallas Reserve Bank, Bank of America, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Ophelia is most proud of her work at the FDIC, where her job involved traveling to assist different branches across the country. She absolutely loved it.
“To travel, meet people, and learn more about the banking industry was amazing,” she said. “My dad came out to visit me, and I could tell he was just as proud of me as I was myself.”
But Ophelia experienced both highs and lows along her path. In 2008, she suffered from an accident and injured her right knee. At the same time, her employer was undertaking massive layoffs. While she was still actively undergoing physical therapy and using a walker, Ophelia lost her job.
On top of the physical strain, she faced the continual pressure of not knowing if she’d be able to pay her bills, and she began receiving foreclosure notes from the bank. Although her recovery was not complete, she forced herself to push through the pain to attend a job interview, even though she could not yet walk unsupported.
The result was bittersweet: Ophelia got the job, but it was too late—her house was foreclosed upon. But she realized what her dad would do if he were standing in her shoes.
“I saw my dad,” she said. “My dad stood right in the door and said: I told y’all if you ain’t got no place to go, you have a home to go to.” So, Ophelia moved back to her hometown and lived with her mom until she passed away later that year.
Today, Ophelia resides in her childhood home and has an even deeper connection to her neighborhood. That’s because, even after retirement, she has not stopped serving—something she knew her father would be proud of.
Ophelia gives her time freely to many local organizations, including the local Civic League, dedicated to promoting the common good and best interest of the community. She is also the president of her older adult association and serves on a local finance committee that helps distribute funding to projects in the neighborhood. In 2019, she helped secure a grant to help older adults in the community struggling to pay their taxes.
When Oak Street Health introduced us to Ophelia and we learned her story, we knew we had to make her wish to honor the man that shaped her life a reality.
Ophelia’s wish began bright and early. She was greeted by Jason, our Wish Fulfillment Manager, who would be Ophelia’s companion and tour guide for the day. It’s unclear who enjoyed whose company more, as the pair quickly got acquainted and became lost in conversation; Ophelia said she felt like she had known Jason for years.
With the Washington Monument standing tall above them and the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool glinting in the sun beside them, they walked to the World War II Memorial, which recognizes the service of brave men and women like Ophelia’s father.
Ophelia was struck by the majestic stone architecture and bronze sculptures—the air felt charged all around her. Seeing the memorial in person allowed Ophelia to express her reverence for her father and feel even closer to him. And then, Ophelia was surprised with a special gift: a framed photograph of her father in the Army.
“I feel like I’m walking in the 1940s,” she said. “It’s taking me back to the war, and I can feel the presence of my dad….I can see him…I can feel all of that.”
Ophelia reveled in the experience, taking time to pause, observe and feel gratitude. In the Memorial Visitor Center, she found her father’s name in the database, and the park staff helped her upload his photo and add personal details to his record. She said that it gave her a sense of purpose and that she wanted to do that for him and other family members in the future: “I am very thrilled…pinch me, I am dreaming!”
In addition to the WWII Memorial, Ophelia also visited the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. She shared how much she enjoyed visiting these special places and learning many new things throughout the day. And when the day ended, she was overwhelmed with emotion.
“This was wonderful…I’m coming up from cloud 12 or cloud 19, she said. “I just want to say thank you and thank Oak Street…without them, this would not be possible.”
But, most of all, connecting with her father’s legacy in this way allowed Ophelia to reflect on her own life—to be proud of the hardworking, successful, and fiercely independent woman she is today at age 71.
“It is my dad pulling me to say ‘you’ve done a good job…. how much prouder can I be, even in death, of you,’” she said. “I can feel something beautiful. It’s so surreal, and it’s a good feeling.”
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Our thanks go to Oak Street Health for their support of Wish of a Lifetime from AARP. To learn more about sponsorship, please contact Rachel Henzlik.