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  • Writer's pictureJohn R. Mayhew

National Grandparents Day

Each September a national holiday unbeknownst to most people passes us by. The first Sunday after Labor Day was designated as National Grandparents Day by President Jimmy Carter in September 1978. The first nationwide observance occurred in 1979.

National Grandparents Day is a family day. It's a day to discover one's roots and learn patience, understanding and appreciation for the elderly. It's the perfect time to enhance communication between the generations.

There is a misimpression that Grandparents Day originated as a florists' promotion. Not true! In 1970, a West Virginia housewife, Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade, initiated a campaign to set aside a special day just for Grandparents.

Mrs. McQuade was born in Caperton, West Virginia, which is now one of the ghost towns in the New River Gorge. She was raised in a coal mining community and as a child she would often visit her grandmother on her 130-acre farm.

"After working all day on the farm, Grandma would walk off to visit elderly people of the community," she recalls. "Often I would tag along. I never forgot talking with those delightful people. That's where my love and respect for oldsters started."

In 1956 Mrs. McQuade had the opportunity to help Jim Comstock, editor of the West Virginia Hillbilly, with organizing a Past 80 Party. The Past 80 Party is now held annually in Richwood, West Virginia, on the second Saturday in June. Some 135 octogenarians plus additional seniors under 80 from all parts of West Virginia enjoy an afternoon of feasting, contest, and entertainment.

While organizing the Past 80 Party, Mrs. McQuade visited nursing homes and was saddened by learning of the chronic loneliness experienced by so many patients. "They load these people up with gifts at Christmas," she said, "but they leave them alone the other 364 days of the year. I wanted there to be another day to visit."

After five years of concerted efforts on the part of civic, business, church, and political leaders, Mrs. McQuade obtained a proclamation from Governor Arch Moore on May 27, 1973 making West Virginia the first state with a special Grandparents Day.

Mrs. McQuade didn't stop there; she now set her sights on a National Grandparents Day. She worked through U. S. Senators Robert Byrd and Jennings Randolph to create a national observance. The date was shifted from May to September because May's calendar was too crowded and September symbolizes the autumn of life. In 1973, Senator Randolph introduced a Grandparents Day resolution in the United States Senate. The resolution languished in committee.

Mrs. McQuade and her supporters turned to the media for support. They also contacted governors, senators, and congressmen in every state. They sent letters to churches, businesses, and numerous national organizations interested in senior citizens.

In September 1978, five years after its West Virginia inception, the White House called to inform her President Jimmy Carter had signed Public Law 96-62. It had given unanimous Congressional approval designating the Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day.

The statute's preamble cites the day's purpose as: "... to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children's children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer."

Mrs. McQuade dedicated her life to advocating for senior citizens.

She and her husband Joe are the parents of 15 children, 40 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. Our National Grandparents Day signifies a loving spirit that lives within us throughout the year, a spirit of love and respect for our elders!



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