Fred Hoenigmann, 89, delivers lunch accompanied by some cheery conversation Monday, Sept. 19 to Julia Koras of Chester. Hoenigmann is retiring in several weeks after 25 years of service as a meal delivery driver for Warren County’s Meals on Wheels program.
Holding an aluminum- wrapped portion of quiche and mixed vegetables, Fred Hoenigmann, 89, of Loon Lake, took several careful steps up onto the porch of Julia Koraus’ home on Landon Hill Road.
“Hello, are you there?” Hoenigmann asked as he opened the door. “Are you doing OK today?”
Koraus, 86, stepped into the living room, and the two exchanged greetings. Hoenigmann asked about her health.
“I hope to see you next Monday,” he said.
“I sure hope you do, too,” she said. Setting her cane against her chair, she shared her thoughts about Hoenigmann, who is retiring in a few weeks after 25 years of faithful service as a Meals-on-Wheels driver for the Warren County Office for the Aging.
“Fred is just wonderful — he’s very caring and interested in how I’m getting along,” she said. “I know I can confide in him and tell him how I’m feeling.”
After maneuvering his compact Subaru up several remote one-lane roads with several dozen hot lunches packed in a cooler on his back seat, Hoenigmann drove up a narrow lane, dodging deep potholes and driving over asphalt seemingly older than he is.
He stepped into the house of his next client, Gertrude Beswick, 93. She was sunning herself —wrapped in a wool blanket — on a screened-in porch, enjoying the sunshine and a view of the valley below.
“You are hiding from me today,” Hoenigmann joked. They then traded quips about each other’s age.
“You’re fortunate you can see and hear well at your age,” Beswick said. “And it’s remarkable you are a good driver.”
“Keep well and stay out of the hospital,“ he advised her.
Several minutes later, he proved Beswick’s compliment was accurate, as he drove his car up a steep, narrow driveway full of ruts. It was his fourth stop on his weekly circuit of 13 stops spanning 32 miles.
Hoenigmann then climbed a wooden stairway to a trailer perched on a hill. Stepping inside, Hoenigmann was greeted with a smile by Anita Weber, 89, who was breathing oxygen through plastic tubes. Her medicines were meticulously arranged on a coffee table in between her perch on the sofa and her television.
“So you are back from the hospital,” he said. “Welcome home.”
“I was there for two weeks, for my breathing,” she replied, before the two shared some political opinions.
Minutes later, he delivered a meal to Howard Wallace of Pottersville. For last week’s delivery, Hoenigmann had found no one home, but walked into Wallace’s home and placed the meal in his refrigerator. This week, Wallace was home. The two shared a hug when Wallace announced he was celebrating his own 89th birthday.
“Stay healthy and make it to 100,” Hoenigmann advised Wallace.
One stop later in Pottersville, he was at the home of Sawn Vanselow. She told him this would be her last week for meal deliveries, as she was moving to Countryside home in Warrensburg for the winter.
“Am I going to lose you?” he asked with a furrowed brow.
After his stops in Pottersville, Hoenigmann explained why he was finally retiring. He said it is now difficult, at the age of 89, for him to deal with the challenges of driving and walking up to houses in winter weather. Dozens of times over the years, he’s had to walk up slippery or snow-covered driveways to deliver the meals, and at his age, he decided, it’s time to give it up.
“Winter is really rough,” he said. “The roads are icy, and in the past, I’ve had to walk over driveways with snow up to my knees.”
Chester Mealsite Director Linda Lewis said Monday that Hoenigmann will be missed.
“He’s always there when I need him,” she said, noting he was punctual, dependable, and brought cheer to so many people. “He not only delivers the meals, he visits the mealsite, eats lunch, and chats with people — he always has a smile on his face.”
She added that Hoenigmann has reached out to his elderly clients in other ways beyond meals, including helping them move to a new address.
Christie Sabo Director of the county Office for the Aging, said Hoenigmann offered vital cheer and conversation to people who might not see another soul all day.
“Fred’s developed a personal relationship with the people on his route,” she said, noting that he has attended funerals of his clients who have passed away. She added that he was most deserving of the regional Senior of the Year award that he received several months ago at a ceremony in Lake George.
At that event, Hoenigmann talked about how fortunate he was to have emigrated to the U.S. from Yugoslavia and Austria, and established a career as an iron worker. After retiring and moving to Chester, Hoenigmann was a soccer coach for the local youth commission.
“He said his volunteer service was his way of giving back to his community and our nation,” she said. “It’s really inspiring.”
As he finished his rounds Monday, Hoenigmann said he hopes someone else will step forward soon and fill his shoes as a volunteer.
“In several years, maybe someone can deliver meals to me,” he said.