A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Of course, completing that long journey requires the persistence to keep right on going.
Stella DiMartino has never been afraid to take that crucial first step, but she has also been a model of persistence and toughness, which has allowed her to see things through, even in the face of staunch resistance and adversity. It was no different as Stella approached her 100th birthday, a milestone that came around last Saturday.
On Jan. 1 of this year, Stella – who moved to Johnson City from Queens, New York, about five years ago – took that crucial first step in her own personal walkathon to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She followed up that first step by walking two-tenths of a mile each day around Colonial Hills Retirement Home until she had crossed the 20-mile mark.
As a result of her efforts, Stella was able to raise over $20,000 for the “precious children,” as she is fond of calling the youngsters who receive treatment at St. Jude. The achievement was nothing short of amazing, but it couldn’t have come as a surprise to those who know Stella’s story.
Stella was a first-generation American born to Polish immigrants. She couldn’t speak a word of English when she started first grade, but she went on to belong to the honor society by the time she graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in New York City.
Her persistence was evident at a young age. When she was assigned to a distant high school despite living a few blocks from Thomas Jefferson High, she sat in the school’s auditorium every day until they finally relented and allowed her to start taking classes there.
During World War II, Stella was working for her local draft board processing recruits when her boss left for another job. She threw her hat in the ring to replace her boss, but the men on the board wanted a man to do the job.
That didn’t sit too well with Stella, who threatened to quit if she didn’t get the job. The board allowed her to have the job on a one-month trial basis, and she never relinquished it. Stella ran the board until the war ended and beyond, staying around to process all the soldiers coming home.
Stella’s role with the draft board led to her meeting her husband Ben. Like Stella, Ben was not easily dissuaded when he set his mind to something.
As a New York City fireman, his draft status was deferred because he might be needed in the event of an attack on New York City. But Ben wanted to serve, so he went down to the draft board and tried to get his draft status changed. He didn’t have any luck in that department, but he did meet Stella, and the two started dating. They were eventually married, and had five children.
Life itself is a journey, and Stella has enjoyed a long trek through this world. She’s done it by taking that first step and never hesitating to take the next one.
Johnson City’s Niswonger Children’s Hospital is one of eight St. Jude Research Hospital affiliate clinics in America.