Jean Salerno accepting the plaque of “Volunteer of the Year 2014” on March 19, 2015. Salerno’s name will forever be the first on a new plaque that is slated to hang in the Mesquite Family Services Center which will honor her and the future Volunteers of the Year. Archived photo by Teri Nehrenz

If the value of a person’s life will be based on the kindness they’ve freely shared with others, Jeanne Salerno would indeed be considered the richest woman in Mesquite; possibly on earth. There isn’t a person who she’s touched that hasn’t instantly turned the moment into a golden memory that will live forever in their hearts.

Salerno took her final journey to be with her savior on the day we celebrate his birth giving him the ultimate birthday gift; an angel returned home. She took her last breath just before 7 p.m. on Christmas night surrounded by her children and a lot of love.

Recently, the Volunteer of the Year plaque at the Mesquite Family Services Center was permanently designated in her name. She was honored with the award in 2015 and was a long-time volunteer at the center.

Salerno isn’t a woman who ever considered monetary wealth a true measure of character or success; as a matter of fact, Salerno had very little financial strength through the years but she was born with a heart full of love, an unbreakable strength character and a wonderful sense of humor. She worked hard to successfully raise four loving and giving children Paul, born in 1947; Melynda, 1949; Coby, 1954 and David, 1961.

You may know her oldest boy, Paul (Chip) Benedict and his wife Barbara; the Benedicts embody their mother/mother-in-law’s legacy of giving; she taught her son well and he chose a woman who had the same values; together the two work hard for Mesquite’s veterans and youth along with other Exchange Club members.

Young Jeanne Salerno. Submitted by Family

Salerno was born on Dec. 19, 1926; on her mother’s birthday. Salerno once said her parents were both, “The most wonderful people who taught her, right is right; being good to others, helping others is the right thing to do.” Salerno never forgot that lesson; perhaps that where true altruism lies, in that simple lesson. She definitely lived an altruistic life; she gave freely of herself with no expectations of anything in return simply because it was the right thing to do.

Salerno never met a person who she didn’t find the good in and like, she never spoke ill of anyone. If there was something that didn’t sit well with her about someone, she didn’t ever say she didn’t like them, she just didn’t “understand” them.

Salerno’s daughter Melynda said, “Mom always found ways to make everything special. She’d go the extra mile and give of herself to do it. We didn’t have a lot of money and one year mom felt so bad that we couldn’t afford a turkey on Thanksgiving; all we had was a chicken. She bought a can of jellied cranberry sauce, sliced it real thin and cut out little star shapes with a cookie cutter. She set those little stars all the way around the chicken and made it a most special Thanksgiving feast. She was always doing little things like that to make everything a little more special for everybody. One time she saved and saved so she could buy two tickets to a ballet; it was a special day just for the two of us; I’ll never forget it. Mom worked two jobs and was putting my step-dad through medical school; saving that money was not easy.”

Family members weren’t the only people to benefit from Salerno’s generosity of heart, she gave to anybody who was in need even though she, herself always worked two jobs to raise her family and volunteered for numerous organizations.

Melynda recalls a time when her mother worked for a blood bank during the day and as a switchboard operator at night. “There was no money for babysitters so mom would take Chip and I to work at the blood bank, sit us outside of her window and give us a box of paperclips to occupy ourselves with. We made the other ladies in the office real mad when they needed a paperclip and had to take it apart from all the other paperclips we’d chained together.”

After years of raising her family in different parts of the United States, Salerno finally settled in Mesquite where she immediately found a niche in volunteer work with the Salvation Army; she busied herself greeting clients and visitors, answering phones, filing (she said she loved filing) and she contacted the recipients of the Senior Food Program to remind them to come and pick up their food.

On Thursday, March 19, 2015, at the Salvation Army’s annual volunteer appreciation dinner, Jeanne Salerno was introduced as the first annual Volunteer of the Year for her work and dedication to helping others.

That wasn’t her first “Volunteer of the Year” award for her work. She first received the honor in the late 90’s when she was a volunteer for an organization in upstate New York called PEACE.

Peace volunteers help people realize their potential for becoming self-reliant and self-sufficient.  According to their website “PEACE Inc. is Onondaga County’s federally designated Community Action Agency. As part of the national network of Community Action Agencies, PEACE Inc. seeks to help people become more self-sufficient by strengthening families, improving the conditions in which people live, encouraging people to own a stake in their own community, and developing partnerships with other organizations, businesses, and individuals to support these efforts.”

Salerno’s daughter said, “One of the gentlemen mom helped years ago has stayed on the right path all this time because of mom.  Everyone else had given up on him but mom wouldn’t; he still visits her anytime he comes through town.”

Salerno was a very spiritual woman and had a wonderful relationship with God; after retiring from the Salvation Army she lived a quiet life in the company of a very large, very spoiled black cat named Onyx.

In true “Jeanne” fashion and living her legacy, Salerno’s daughter wanted to give Mesquite a final message, not about her mom but about her mom’s final days at Mesa View Hospital.

Melynda said, “I want this community to know what a gem they have in their local hospital. Yes, it’s a small town hospital with limited services but their quality of care can’t be beat. The staff here from the bottom to the top is outstanding! They have treated mom like she was their own mother. They have given her the best and more importantly the most ‘sincere’ care possible. The nurses and doctors care about their patients, mom’s a person, not a just a patient. The love her, they love caring for her, not because they get paid to do it, because that’s who they are; they sincerely want to help others. They’ve been wonderful to mom and to us. The hospice nurse, Brenda, has been patient with us, explaining everything that has been going on with mom and she’s treated mom with patience and dignity. I live in Washington State and if I ever get sick and can make the trip, I’d want to come here for my care. Our family has been in and around the medical field almost all our lives. I’ve personally had the chance to visit more hospitals than I have cared to, but I have never in my life experienced a staff as good as the staff they have here. On Monday night when mom came in, I had to fly from Washington, I arrived late and my back hurt really badly. I had to lie flat on something so I lay down in the corner of the room on the floor and apparently fell asleep. Jason, the night nurse came in and woke me up. He said, “You can’t sleep on the floor, it’s not comfortable. He and a security guard dragged sofa sleeper from somewhere into the room and made it up for me to sleep on; who does that?” Salerno’s sons Paul and Coby both back their sister’s sentiments about the caring staff. “They’ve been the best to mom and to us. They, like mom, are truly a treasure.”

Salerno’s youngest son, David, shared this with his family after his mother’s passing: We are going to miss our GG; her kindness to all, her love and concern for Family and her friends, her generosity and humility, her optimism and humor.

She was a ‘Get-up, brush yourself off, and keep going’ person. The genuine article! We each have our own ‘best of’ memory-reel of her that will live on. I know you will keep her close.

Her life and her ‘way’ makes for an excellent reference guide for making it through adversity, showing love and kindness to others, and surviving the best and worst of life with tenacity, selflessness, humor and hard work.

She loved us, this Family, with every fiber – equally and unconditionally – without a moment’s hesitation to show it.”

Salerno may be gone from Mesquite but her love and her legacy will live on in the hearts of all she’s touched; Mesquite has truly been touched by an angel.