“I have always been the kind of guy who looks forward to the next decade. When I was a teenager I couldn’t wait to be in my 20s. When I was in my 20s I couldn’t wait to be in my 30s,” Alexander “Chuck” Eremchuk said. “Now, I am looking forward to being 90, but I have another goal, too—I want to be one of Willard Scott’s Smucker People.”
In order to meet that goal Chuck has to keep on kicking, or in his case dancing, for another fifteen years. After spending two hours with him last week, I have no doubts that he will.
Eremchuk tells me that he is a New York City boy and of this I have no doubt. He is New York through and through. But what came through most in the two hours I sat talking with Eremchuk last week is his heart. Chuck Eremchuk has heart.
For 25 years he put his heart into his job in the U.S. Army. He was drafted right out of school and sent to the Pacific area to fight in World War II as a tail gunner in a B-29. After that war was over, when everybody else was sent home, Eremchuk and his fellow B-29 crew members were ordered to stick around. They spent the next several months bombing the ships that the U.S. would be leaving behind.
In the next 25 years, Eremchuk would go on to fight in the Korean War and to serve a three-star general at the Pentagon, traveling to Vietnam 36 times in four years.
He gave to his country the same way he gives to everything and everybody else in his life. Whether it was his first wife he lost to cancer after 36 years of marriage, his three children who he spent all of his free time with, his second wife who he has been married to for 19 years or the charities that he is still giving to today, Eremchuck gives wholeheartedly.
After losing his first wife, he had a down time. For about three months he said he did very little. In what he describes as “a long time coming,” he retired from his job at Waverly Press and spent his days moping. With his sparkly blue eyes and smile that can melt even the hardest heart, it is hard to imagine Eremchuk moping, but he assures me he did.
“Then one day,” he said, “I woke up and thought, 'Wait…I’m not dead.' And I got busy living.”
"Living" for Eremchuk took two forms. First he went back to something he had done his whole life—he went back to dancing.
“I discovered dancing when I was 13, the same time I discovered girls” Eremchuk said. “I went into this church in another neighborhood so I wouldn’t look foolish in front of the neighborhood boys, picked the most graceful dancer there and asked her to dance. I started walking and turning in time to the music and realized, 'I could do this. I was good at this.'”
It was through dancing that Eremchuk met his second wife.
“I saw her at a dance, asked her to dance and for the rest of the night we just stared into each other’s eyes,” he said.
Five months later they were married.
In addition to dancing, Eremchuk turned to volunteering. He first started volunteering for Hospice of the Chesapeake just three months after his wife’s death. The charity was a natural pick for Eremchuk since Hospice meant so much to him and his family in the final days of his wife’s life.
“It was because of Hospice that she was able to be at home with her family when she died,” Eremchuk said. “So, I started working for them and once you start volunteering more volunteering opportunities come up.”
Eremchuk has continued to volunteer for Hospice for 24 years now but he didn’t stop there. He has volunteered for the American Cancer Society for 17 years, Partners in Care for 15 years and John Hopkins for 13 years.
“I received a plaque for volunteer of the year from ] a few years back,” Eremchuk went on to say of winning the . “I am good with people.”
He reached across the table, held my hand and showed me how he gently rubs the back of a chemotherapy patient's hand when he introduces himself for the first time. Then he proceeded to tell me one of dozens of jokes that he keeps at the ready as a way to help a patient release endorphins and relax while they are getting their treatment.
When I tried to tell Eremchuk how amazing he is, how great it is that he gives so much of himself for others, he was quick to shoo the compliments away.
“No,” he said while emphatically shaking his head. “I get back way more than I give. Every full-time volunteer you come across out there will tell you that. I am a doer. I like to do. I enjoy spending time with people. Socialization is the key to life.”
If that is true then Eremchuk has it in spades. Though he focuses most of his time on his family, his volunteering commitments and his dancing, he also is a member of the SPY 85 and over swim team.
He and his team traveled to Florida recently for the national YMCA championships and in addition to setting and breaking several national and meet records, they went on to perform a skit in which the four members of the team with top hats, bathing suits and red bowties entertained the crowd with their rendition of the Village People’s “YMCA.”
“The crowd went nuts,” Eremchuk said.
I wasn’t there and I haven’t been able to find video of the performance but after meeting Eremchuk, I don’t doubt it. Eremchuk doesn’t do anything half way. But in performing, in bringing joy to another person’s life, he excels. I have no doubt, when he wants to put a smile on the face of an entire crowd, he can do it.