In philosophy, the “Circle of Life” means that we start at the end and end in the beginning. In other words, our lives resemble a complete circle.
Dena Zugzda’s life is a perfect example. Raised in Mechanicsburg, Pa., today Dena, 105, lives at Country Meadows of West Shore, located just one mile from her family’s farm where she grew up.
Recently Dena gathered, virtually, with several of her six children on a video chat arranged by Lifesong hospice** to reminisce and celebrate her life. Her son, David Noggle, attended in person after receiving a rapid COVID test at Country Meadows. As snow fell, piling up outside her window, Dena rested her head on her son’s shoulder enjoying the warmth and love as family members recalled memories that made them laugh, smile and reflect on the life lessons and values she taught them.
Her youngest child, Mary, said, “She instilled self-reliance in [her children]. In other words, you do things for yourself and keep going. When things are going wrong, you don’t look back, you keep on moving forward.”
Born in 1915, Dena, was one of 10 children raised in a large Italian family. She helped on the family’s farm while she attended school, graduating in 1934. Serendipitously, she met her first husband at a local dance hall up the street from her home, which was located on the grounds now occupied by Country Meadows—where she resides.
She lived through World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, Spanish Flu and numerous other historical events. Relating today’s pandemic to the Spanish Flu, David recalls his mother shared, “The reason we survived the Spanish Flu was because we made everything—all our food, clothing and even our shoes.”
After having six children, Dena found herself a single mother and took on a rare title for women of the time: career woman. She worked as a legal assistant with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to support her family.
“She never let anyone or anything phase her; she just went with the flow. She had no fear—she went and did it and it always came out great. She was respected in the community and such a loving human,” said David. “She’s a very independent and an amazing mother.”
Even while working full time and raising six children, Dena found time to give back to her community. “Every evening she read the paper and would knit, crochet or do sewing,” recalled Mary, adding that Dena knitted cheerleading uniforms for her school’s entire squad.
Her son, Michael Noggle, recalled his mother’s strong will, determination and work ethic, stressing upon her children that hard work is the key to success and laziness is akin to dishonesty. As a youth, he recalls playing outside when a homeless man stopped by the family home asking to do chores in exchange for food. Knowing his mother’s philosophy on such people, he was surprised when she welcomed the man and gave him a hearty meal. She told Michael, “Many people, even smart people, fall on hard times. For whatever reason, some never recover. When you meet those genuinely in need, lend a helping hand. Remember it might not be their fault. I’m trying to raise you to be sure enough of yourself and your values so when you face adversity you’ll be able to overcome it.”
Throughout her life, one of Dena’s favorite things to do was drive. And drive she did—she crisscrossed the country at least ten times and often took friends on road trips to various other destinations including Canada and to visit family members in California and the deep south. In the 1970s she became caught up in the CB radio craze going by the handle of “Dutchess,” a nickname given to her by her son. The family had a good belly laugh recalling a family road trip to Canada when Dena was involved in a minor accident. After exchanging information with the other driver, rather than wait for assistance, Dena simply picked up the bumper that was ripped off her 1934 Cadillac, threw it into the trunk and got back on the road! David said, “She didn’t like to stop on road trips and drove hundreds of miles a day making as few stops as possible.”
Dena remarried at 80, and her new husband was her traveling partner for eight years until he passed away. Her last road trip was at the ripe young age of 93 when she and a group of girlfriends journeyed to Florida. Mary recalled, “I went on many road trips with Mom, and we would be in the car for many hours.” With tears in her eyes she added, “She became my best friend. There wasn’t a day I wasn’t chatting with her. It was great to have that kind of relationship with her.”
In addition to driving, Dena loved to cook, garden and enjoyed a strong faith life. According to her daughter-in-law, Maureen Noggle, “She never lectured faith, she lived it, and we lived by her example, by observing her.”
David concluded, “Many people think life is about the money and what you have, but it’s family that gives you a full life.”
** Lifesong Hospice is a Leader family-owned service available to residents of Country Meadows and Ecumenical Retirement Community.)