a special message from the director of
Upper Room of Erie, a homeless shelter

Jerry Johnson

Jerry Johnson is gone. In our work at the Upper Room one rarely gets a chance to get to know those we serve personally. Perhaps that’s for the best, as they have so much sadness in their lives that we wish we didn’t know. But Jerry was a success story for all concerned.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when Jerry first came to he Upper Room. After a number of visits, I had a chance to talk personally with him. We do this when we can, not to be nosey, but to see if there might be something we could do to help the person. Jerry told me he was a military veteran, and that got my attention.

burial scene, Jerry Johnson 1

We work closely with Erie’s VA and know that they have a number of programs to which Jerry might be entitled. Not the least of these being the Soldiers and Sailors Home…and Jerry was a homeless vet whose life story makes me choke up even now. Imagine yourself orphaned at five and being shipped south to pick cotton for a relative. A fuller story was published in the Erie Times and hangs behind our main desk. Within hours of my call a representative of the VA had visited Jerry and gotten the necessary information. In three weeks he was living at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home. The system had worked! He was happy there, so we seldom saw him except for the odd times he would drop by to chat or check his mail.

burial scene, Jerry Johnson 2

Last week the rumor at the shelter was that he had died. Checking with the Home I learned that yes, he had died in the hospital from some closely held complication. and his graveside service was to be in just a few hours in their cemetery. Not knowing if any family or friends would be there, I hurried down. And yes, he did have friends and family present: five living brothers and sisters. He also had a military honor guard, complete with a folded flag, bugler and an honor squad to fire the 21-gun salute.

burial scene, Jerry Johnson 3

The service was dignified but with few frills. The pictures will give you some idea. I’m glad Jerry came to us, and glad that I went to him. There can be much satisfaction in our work. I hope I never forget that.

Tom Schlaudecker
Jan 21, 2014

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