WEST FARGO — Edith Lockwood Sloat may be retiring, but she’s not going away.
The 88-year-old is known to many for her tireless work with Valley Senior Services, both as an employee and volunteer.
Now that she’s finally decided to retire, her goal is to get out and visit area nursing homes.
“I know everybody,” Sloat said. “Some I haven’t seen in a real long time.”
She’s packed and delivered meals for at least 34 years, and helped transport folks to shopping and medical appointments, as well. Once she retired, she volunteered her time for another 16 years.
Sloat also served on the Valley Senior Services board, as well as the West Fargo Area Community Program board.
“She just is a giving heart,” said Brian Arett, executive director of Valley Senior Services. “I don’t know any better way to say it than that.”
Sloat began delivering meals to homes in 1978 as a driver for the Cass County Housing Authority. Back then, she kept the delivery van at her house.
“I did maintenance on it,” Sloat said.
Sometimes it really needed it.
“They started out here with an old Ford van that had a different engine put in it,” she said. “First day on the job, I was taking people over to the grocery store and it quit and I could not get it started. And it was a cold winter in February.”
Undeterred, Sloat trudged through the snow for help. Eventually, she got the van started, and she’s kept going ever since.
Sloat’s seen organizational names come and go — Valley Senior Services was once called Fargo Senior Commission on Aging, also known as Fargo Senior Services — and she’s served many tenants at the West Fargo Highrise, 230 8th Ave. W. in West Fargo, where she was once activities director.
“As far as people living here,” she said, “I’m on the third batch.”
Her former bosses estimate Sloat drove well over 100,000 miles, and delivered more than 500,000 meals, during her 42 years with Valley Senior Services.
“I just liked it,” Sloat said. “I just loved the people.”
When she started, she had one Meals on Wheels route with three houses. By the time she quit driving, there were 10 routes and 10 drivers serving 100 homes.
It took her more than 100,000 miles and 42 years to learn something pretty simple.
“Hold your tongue,” said Sloat.
When pressed what she means, she said she used to have a short temper.
“It’s gone,” she said. “You’ve got all kinds of people, and if you’re negative, they’re going to be negative.”
Shannon Lang, nutrition manager at Valley Senior Services, said Sloat may come across as direct, but her kindness envelopes everyone around her, and she’s become well-loved.
“You know where you stand with Edith” Lang said. “She’s a very strong woman.”
They threw her a retirement party on Jan. 30 at the West Fargo Highrise. Sloat had tears in her eyes when she recalled that afternoon.
“It was overwhelming,” she said. “We have a volunteer banquet once a year. I was honored for doing thousands of hours [of volunteering] about a year ago. That was overwhelming, too.”
After all these years, she said, it was time to let go.
“I’d had enough,” she said, “and the weather was so cold.”
There were other signs.
Sloat is a Methodist. Not long ago, her pastor asked the congregation to select a random word to live by.
Sloat chose the word “freedom.”
“I thought, this is God trying to tell me something,” she said. “It’s time to quit.”
There is an epilogue, of sorts, even though it happened years ago.
She once helped a driver with multiple sclerosis deliver meals to four people in Horace. The route lasted over a punishing winter.
“In the spring he said, ‘Edith, we made it. We’re survivors.’”
That seems to say it all.