Ronna Scoratow of Squirrel Hill may be known best for her 47-year-old plant. In 2014, The Wall Street Journal featured the East Ender after she set aside $5,000 for the care of the 7-foot-tall philodendron upon her demise.
The publicity generated by the story was unexpected.
“I don’t like being recognized. I just like to do what I do and keep anonymous,” she said.
Such a desire to stay within the shade is why Scoratow rejects any praise for her various volunteering ventures throughout the city. Given the opportunity that she presently has, the Squirrel Hill resident is more than pleased to devote time to others.
For nearly four decades, Scoratow, 67, was part of National Builders & Acceptance Corporation. She spent the last 17 years of her tenure at the helm of the real estate business.
“When I was 65 it was sort of a family decision that I would step aside and the younger generation would step in,” she said.
But once retirement hit, Scoratow had no desire to rest, she said. “I’m a worker bee, I like to leave my house and do something every day. I certainly didn’t want to stay home and look at the walls.”
So Scoratow has filled her days in the service of others.
On Tuesdays, she helps with bingo at the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center; other days, she works with residents at the Jewish Association on Aging’s AHAVA Memory Care Center of Excellence.
The volunteer sites are calculated decisions, she explained.
“This way I know what’s out there. If I have to go to a nursing home one day, I know what I like and I know what I don’t like,” Scoratow said. “I think our generation is so naive. Many of them have never stepped into a nursing home. A life of vigor and good health, that’s not how it goes. As we age our body starts to go the way it’s designated, and it’s not in the direction of strength and vitality.”
With a keen awareness of human frailties and a need for connection, Scoratow also dedicates time to AgeWell Pittsburgh.
“I drive people to their doctor’s appointments.” Often, what results is “we become girlfriends, go out to lunch and do things together,” she said.
“Ronna is one of our kindest and most dedicated volunteers at JFCS,” said Ellen Leger, volunteer coordinator for AgeWell Rides and Visits. “Her wonderful cheery voice is easily heard by many seniors who are hard of hearing, and her smile can change an ordinary drive into a warm connection with a new friend.”
Scoratow is a “free spirit,” said Sharyn Rubin, JAA’s director of resident and community services. She is “into volunteering for the right reasons and just goes with the flow.”
“I think everybody should find something that suits them,” said Scoratow, who spends one day a week sorting clothes at the Society of St. Vincent De Paul thrift store in Swissvale. “I don’t care if they do it once a month, once a week, find something because we are all going to need a little help down the road.”
Like her days, Scoratow’s evenings are often selflessly spent, as several times a week she volunteers at Sivitz Jewish Hospice.
“When I bond with someone, I stay with them through that journey,” she said.
What that means is that Scoratow will essentially do whatever is needed. When she realized that one of the residents lacked a nighttime sitter, Scoratow told the patient’s daughter, “I will come every night from 5:30 until 7 so you can go home and have dinner with your family.”
It was a simple decision, said Scoratow. “You need to have someone to give some relief because what goes around comes around.”
In explicating her commitment to karma, Scoratow added, “We’re all in the journey together. I’m in the last quarter of the game. I’m hoping that when I need assistance, there will be people out there to help me too.”
“It’s sort of the pay-it-forward philosophy; we’re all going to need a little help from our friends,” added the animal lover, who fosters cats for the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania.
“People often say to themselves, ‘When I retire, I’ll volunteer’ or ‘I wish I could do more things, but I’m working or I have kids.’ But when the time comes, people for whatever reason are reluctant [to begin volunteering],” Rubin said.
“I try to fill my life with things I feel good about,” said Scoratow. “After all, it’s part of our religious obligation to be kind.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz