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Rec center bids farewell to favorite grandmother

Long-time Miami employee retires

Angela Meinhardt, 73, sat on the stairs of the Miami Rec Center's swimming pool, dreading what she was about to say. Her close friend and coworker Tara Britton sat next to her.

"I've got something I want to tell you, Tara," Meinhardt said.

"What's going on, Ang?"

Meinhardt burst into tears, and Britton began to cry with her.

"I already know," Britton said.

That was in June.

Several months earlier, in February, Meinhardt's husband Jim walked into their home in Camden and found Angela unconscious. She had passed out at her kitchen table, fallen backward in the chair and split her head.

She spent two days in the hospital, dizzy and sick. When she was released, Jim told Angela it was time for her to retire.

She didn't want to do it, but at 73, Angela had already worked years longer than most U.S. retirees.

Still, she didn't want to leave her work - the people with whom she'd spent almost 20 years - or the dozens of students she had taken in like her grandchildren.

"I'm so close to all the kids," she said. "I mean, you work with 52 students throughout the whole year, they're just … they're like my grandkids. I just always did so much for them. I treat them like my own."

Until last Wednesday, her final day as an employee, Angela was the customer service coordinator, though she thought that might be overstating it.

"I was what they more or less call the manager in the [pro] shop," she said.

However, Ron Siliko, the senior director of customer services and facility management at the rec, said one of Angela's biggest contributions was to the customers.

"We probably have between 500 to 800 non-student customers who have been here as members as long as she's been working," Siliko said. "She's developed wonderful relationships with those people over time."

And, after more than 18 years with the same job, Angela built a home within the rec center.

She witnessed the rec transform through fitness classes, new workout machines and facility renovations. She watched coworkers like Britton and Siliko graduate from Miami, then work their way up the rec's administrative ranks. She followed dozens of student-employees throughout all four years of college, feeding them, caring for them and listening to what they had to say.

"Ever since she started, the student staff have regarded her as kind of their 'grandmother' at Miami," Siliko said. "That's a wonderful thing to have. She's always been an advocate of students, supporter of students and supervisor of students. They love her."

Senior Katie Bodenstedt has known Angela since she began working at the rec as a first-year.

"She was always the first person to give a big hug, the person who took care of us," Bodenstedt said. "She used to make me tea when I was sick. For the people who open at 5:30 a.m., she would bring them McDonalds for breakfast."

During the week, the rec sees about 3,000 customers each day, 80 percent of whom are students, Siliko said. With Angela situated front and center, greeting customers as they enter the facility, she sees a lot of different faces and encounters a lot of different people.

So, when word began to spread of her retirement, Siliko said customers suggested they throw a party for her. They wanted a chance to thank her and wish her well.

But, Angela insisted she'd be back to visit.

"I'll miss it, but I can come over and work out," she said. "I'll come back and forth."

The staff won't soon forget Angela, either. Siliko said they would fill her position, but they could never replace her. And, for Britton, one of the most important things Angela taught her was to be happy where you are.

"She's been here at the rec for over 18 years, in basically the same position," Britton said. "She shows you can be happy by just being in one place and setting down your roots. You don't have to move around, you don't have to move up. You can just be happy and you can work hard, wherever you are."