A familiar voice, a listening ear

By Rebecca Jeskey


Every Wednesday, a friendly voice with a slight southern drawl sings through the phone at the information desk in the Academic Extension Building: ”Good morning, La Roche College.“


The woman behind this voice is Rose Cheriton.  Most students know her as the receptionist who greets them each week as they hurry to class.  To others, she is a volunteer.  An artist. An advice-giver. A writer. A mother to four children. A grandma.  No matter the title, Cheriton is a woman of wisdom and compassion.


In 1990, Cheriton took the position of receptionist at La Roche.  After a short leave in 2005 to take care of her husband, she returned in 2009.


”I’m a people person,“ Cheriton said. ”I have been volunteering since I was a teenager, and that was many years ago.  It’s my nature. I love helping people. I love reaching out and making people feel comfortable.“

 

Cheriton, a student at heart, with the ”World“ book she keeps near her desk.

 

Photo © Rebecca Jeskey


To fulfill this passion, Cheriton said she reaches out through community service.  In the past, she volunteered at a nursing home and tutored children for an after-school program at her church. ”I feel that connection with people,“ she said. 


When Cheriton occupies the information desk on Wednesdays, this connection is evident: she greets the students and faculty shuffling through the hallway, flashing a smile that only genuine kindness can form on one’s face. They all know her by her first name, by that familiar warm, ”How you doing, dear?“


”I like it here because you get to meet people all over the world,“ Cheriton said. ”And I love learning about other people’s culture, and what country they come from, and things like that. I’m interested in history, too, and the past, and the future.“


Below the desk, Cheriton keeps a book that has a map display and list of the world’s countries, a guide she said is helpful in her learning.  ”I’ve had different students come up to me and tell me how to say ‘hello’ in their language,“ she said.


Flipping through the book’s pages, she said, ”When the students come and tell me what countries that they’re from, I can go to all the countries in the world and look them up.“


Cheriton speaks of learning with a fascination in her voice, the way one expresses an admiration for art.  The southern native, born in North Carolina, never finished college.  According to the 78-year-old, she wants to one day further her education.


”I like working at a college because I love learning.  At my age, I said I’m going back to college one day and finishing my degree, which I didn’t do. I got married.   I won a scholarship to college, but I met my husband that summer and dropped out and got married,“ she said.  ”I love reading and learning, and I hope to go back to college some day.“


A writer herself, Cheriton said she aspires to take up English courses, as well as a few art classes so that she can illustrate the three children’s books that she wrote.


She said, ”I like to write poetry, I love to inspire people, and I like to do it through my poetry. I write about the homeless and things that people should be interested in doing, and I think I do it to inspire.“


Laughing, she added, ”I’m always giving advice, whether people want it or not. And I do it through my poetry in a sneaky way.“


One of Cheriton’s poems is a piece she wrote to her husband who passed away, a work titled ”John Cheriton.“


”I write to him all the time. He’s been gone three years now. I talk to him through my writing,“ she said. ”He was a wonderful person.  But I thank God that he was in my life and that God sent him to me.  He taught me so much about love. His love was unconditional, and from his love, I have learned to love other people unconditionally. I don’t judge people easily.“


Despite her unfinished degree, Cheriton is proof that one does not necessarily need a full college education to be knowledgeable.  She worked as a freelance writer for the North Hills Newsrecord, has written over 300 poems, and has worked for the government as a social security supervisor.


”I had 26 people, writing clerks, beneath me,“ she said.  ”A lot of people here don’t know that.“


Cheriton said her husband’s job brought her to Pittsburgh.  After coming here, the poet said she raised her granddaughter from age three until she was old enough to graduate from college. During this time, Cheriton worked part-time jobs so that she could spend time with her grandchild.


”I’m always giving up something for my family. I gave up my education to get married. Gave up a job to come here for my husband. Gave up another job to raise my granddaughter. But I haven’t regretted it. I’ve been blessed,“ she said.


While counting her blessings, the receptionist speaks with the wisdom of a 78-year-old, but doesn’t look her age. And to Cheriton, age is irrelevant. When she isn’t working or volunteering, she said she spends time exercising and crocheting.


”I’m old, but I don’t feel old,“ she said. ”Even at my age, I love to go dancing, to have fun, travel.  I’m at the stage in life where I just want to have fun.  But I’m still committed, though.“