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Carol Jankunas with her husband (and pup) on one of their many travels.

Carol Jankunas with her husband (and pup) on one of their many travels.

As a young adult, Carol Jankunas ’64 drove across the country in her VW Beetle to realize her dream of living in Colorado, where she still resides. She grew her career there, putting her Saint Rose degree in education to good use as a school teacher, then trying out a few more career choices, and traveling the U.S. with her trusty camera in hand. In her mid-40s, she met the love of her life – who remains her best friend and partner in crime to this day.

What is a recent challenge you’ve faced?
I have always pursued challenges – each one made me stronger and served to push me on to the next. However, 10 years ago, challenges pursued me when scoliosis and stenosis (and accompanying excruciating pain) forced me to undergo six successive spinal surgeries. Somewhere in there, I lost the ability to walk or stand at all, and more recently I have been experiencing the diminishment of functions of my arms and hands. Personal challenges now run my life, every moment of every day, and my husband has to do everything for me (one example of my determination about this phase was my victory in finally getting myself out of bed and to the bathroom – on my own – a “great triumph,” which takes me 45 minutes at best!)

Please describe your career path.
I grew up in New York State, but at age 22 I turned my life upside down, and challenged myself to set off across this great country, alone, in my Volkswagen bug, to fulfill my dream. I was determined to build my life in Colorado, although when I set out, I had no job nor friends there (my parents were beside themselves!). Within two weeks of arrival, I had persuaded the Jefferson County School System to hire me as a fifth-grade teacher. This was the first of 10 years of teaching.

All told, I have had five careers during my lifetime: teacher, secretary/receptionist for manufacturing firms, successful grant writer for three nonprofit organizations, freelance writer for two newspapers, office manager for several psychiatrists in mental-health facilities, and owner/manager of three shops: a thrift shop for extremely poor families, a fancy women’s clothing boutique in a Colorado mountain resort town, and a “used treasures” store on a main street of Denver (Colfax Avenue – with the Cathedral located directly across the street – where the Pope visited for World Youth Day in 1995 – but that’s another story for another time!).

Fortunately, I have been able to travel to 38 states, live in five of them (New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Colorado), and be awestruck (and camera-ready) in 12 of our magnificent national parks.

I really did have a personal life in between these ventures: In 1976, I wrestled with the angst of an unwed pregnancy. After months of trauma, prayer, and counseling, I chose to keep and raise my child – alone – which I look back on as my greatest challenge, and my greatest joy. I promised myself – and God – to be the best parent I could be, so I self-imposed a “no dating” policy to ensure my child was always my top priority.

Ten years later, quite unexpectedly, I met my sweetheart – a coworker at Catholic Community Services, Dennis Duggan, who was director of our emergency assistance centers, and who was totally dedicated to serving the poor and marginalized of our community. When we met, we were in our mid-40s – and, quite amazingly, when we married two years later, it was the first marriage for both of us!

Carol Jankunas in her garden

Gardening is one of Carol Jankunas’s passions.

What is your typical day like?
Well, I live on my computer! I have always had a passion for writing, and several of my careers allowed me to employ and enjoy that passion. Now I write daily emails to friends, offer quirky comments on Facebook, and write short stories and poems – mostly for my own entertainment. And here, there, and everywhere in our home are piles of notes and scraps of paper – the beginnings of a fabulous book – still to be written!

I also enjoy two other hobbies. Just like when I was a student at Saint Rose, I nearly always have a camera with me wherever I go. You never know what amazing picture is out there, just waiting for . . . Y O U! Click!

Then there is gardening – a real challenge for someone with disabilities. I have an above-ground 4-foot-by-8-foot “fairy garden” that I am able to care for from my wheelchair, and an in-ground garden of perennial flowers, which requires the help of an assistant.

Since I can no longer do “normal” chores, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and so forth, my blessing throughout this past decade is my husband, who has had to take up the slack and now does all the chores that we formerly shared. Since Dennis is also my paid caregiver, he has his hands full from early morning each day to late into the night. Some of my friends call him “Saint Dennis” and that is exactly right!

I am most grateful for my husband’s caring for me.

What do you do for fun?
We occasionally go out for dinner (with bib and special utensils in hand), and other times we might be joined by my good friend, Susan, and take in a current film, and afterwards enjoy critical discussions in a nearby café (not quite the discriminatory level, say, of the Rotten Tomatoes group!).

In summers and autumns, we have gone on various trips in our handicap-accessible van throughout our own wonderful country, but I regret that the joy of taking trips is now overshadowed by the tedious planning that is required, due to my wheelchair situation. Despite diligent research on accommodations, I have spent too many nights “sleeping” in my wheelchair, since it turned out that that the bed was not accessible (e.g. too high, or barriers on either side, etc.)

And there was actually the nightmare, in a fairly luxurious lodge, in which I could not enter the bathroom at all, as my chair would not fit through the doorway! Asking questions over the phone ahead of time cannot cover all the possible hidden horrors we find once we actually enter our room. I have made it my business – my mission – to follow up with each manager and relay to him or her the things that were helpful during our stay (lowered light switches, thermostat and sink handles I could actually reach) and also suggestions to make a handicapped person’s stay less frustrating and more enjoyable.

At age 77, I am still, as always, on the lookout for my next possible adventure, to continue challenging myself, and living the slogan, “young at heart.” I have always sought opportunities I felt were worthwhile and fulfilling. This premise is in tune with my core belief that the purpose of life is to matter, to make a difference, sort of like that corny old phrase, “to make the world a little bit better.”

What do you like about Saint Rose?
I am grateful to Saint Rose for setting me off on my initial career, confident and well-equipped. But best of all are the lifelong friendships I made there on campus almost 60 years ago (Lifelong? How extraordinary! How exquisite)! These classmates have been a wonderful support group – we encourage each other now as we did then, maybe now even more so, as we have all been through the ups and downs of life – its joys, frustrations, sorrows, and delights, and have much more appreciation for life than we did as young students, cohabitants in the delightful bonding moments in Fontbonne Hall.

By Irene Kim

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