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The City Journals

Hiking Group Benefits Area Resident in More Than One Way

Oct 07, 2016 03:06PM ● By Brian Shaw

By Brian Shaw  | [email protected]

For Jane Qualizza, going on a hike in the Wasatch mountains was out of the ordinary. At 67, Qualizza has seen her fair share of  adventure—more about that in a bit—but that was long before she worked 46 years as an ad salesperson at the Newspaper Agency Corporation, making her robot-like daily commute over and over again. 

“Got to the point five years ago where I couldn’t walk a block down the street just to get a cup of coffee,” Qualizza says in her still noticeable Midwestern accent. “Most days when I was working, I’d just walk from my desk to my car and then I was back home in no time.” 

Then she retired. Her daily work-to-home-and-back regimen coupled with the battle with Father Time left her 50 pounds overweight, looking for answers. And so faced with this company-imposed retirement, she decided to check out the senior center. 

Growing up on Chicago’s gritty South Side in the Back of the Yards meatpacking district presented Qualizza with some early challenges in life. If you read the newspaper today, the pages about her hometown are littered with shootings and death on nearly every street corner. 

“I don’t pick up Chicago papers anymore,” she added. “It just rips my heart apart to see what these kids are doing to each other. For what?” 

Qualizza is familiar with heartbreak. Her own son stayed in Chicago despite his mother’s insistence on him leaving the Windy City as quickly as possible, and last visited her and her companion a little over two years ago. 

“Last time we dropped him off at the [Salt Lake] airport I just had a feeling I wouldn’t see him again,” she said. “So I squeezed him a little tighter, ya know.” Shortly thereafter, he hanged himself. He was 33. 

When time hits you, it’s not always an easy thing to deal with. After providing 46 years of service to the Newspaper Agency Corporation, enduring a failed marriage and watching her son fade away in the city where she was born and raised, she felt something had to change. 

Looking for answers, she turned to the senior center for help. At first, she started strength training two days a week and ran three days a week. Now, she has transformed herself from someone in mourning into a great leader who leads by example, according to Myrna Clark, South Salt Lake recreation deputy director. 

“Jane came to us about halfway through last year,” said Clark. “She brought her granddaughter at first for support, but then the granddaughter moved so she brought two friends, and her influence just grew from there.” 

A salesperson by trade, Qualizza said she used her persuasive skills to talk several seniors into “getting off their butts” and doing something for themselves. 

“I’d tell them they’d get a good meal, some fresh air and they’d have fun. And,” continued Qualizza, “They’d get it all summer long for 10 bucks! How can ya beat that?” 

They were sold, according to Clark. “She’s a very happy, spunky lady,” said Clark. She’s very vocal and the one who’s gathered and frankly, mobilized all the seniors on these hikes.” 

Whether it was a doctor’s wife in mourning, or a police officer’s wife battling cancer, it simply didn’t matter to Qualizza. She got them all moving. 

“I try to get everybody to walk and be active,” Qualizza said. For her, living in Utah has changed her life. 

Back in 1970, she and her beau—25 years divorced due to his battle with alcoholism—were reading information about the Green River having the best fishing on Earth. She and her young husband, a pressman at the time, were sold and made the decision to leave Chicago behind. 

“I didn’t wanna leave,” Qualizza said. “But I knew if I stayed on the South Side, I wouldn’t make it out. You’re lucky if you make it past 23.” She was 21 at the time. 

Shortly thereafter, she and her beau bought some property a half-mile off the Green near Flaming Gorge in a place called Jarvie’s Ranch—another world from her gritty hometown. 

“It was funny, cause back in ‘76 I think it was, we were walking 32 miles down a dirt road over this bridge, and you know we’d take raft rides down the gorge all the time,” she said. “So, my husband and me and a few of his pressman buddies stopped at the Gates of Lodore. A 12 hour raft ride, alright? The thing I remember about this ride is that we had two rafts. One got a hole in it, so now here we were, trying to make it back to the main road.” 

“Buzzards were flying overhead. After a few hours frying in this sun, a rancher found and rescued part of our group (including her husband). The rancher gave ‘em all some suntan lotion and food. They were just fine after that,” she added matter of factly. 

For many people, dealing with what Qualizza has dealt with in her 67 years would drive many to the brink. While she doesn’t consider herself a hero—and don’t you dare tell her that unless you want an earful, too—everyone needs someone to make the pain go away, even if the person in charge has felt more pain than most might feel in 10 lifetimes. 

What the summer hiking group has done for her is immeasurable, she says. Since she started participating in the group, which meets every other Monday and Wednesday from June to August at the Columbus Center, she has a newfound confidence in herself. 

Qualizza will make the mile-long trek from her house to the Columbus Center, before hopping on a bus that will take her and her hiking buddies along the interstate and up the canyon. 

From there, Qualizza and her charges start their journey into a familiar area for her—even if it may be something slightly new for her charges. 

On most hikes, Clark said Qualizza is accompanied by between 10-12 other hikers, some grandchildren of the seniors and others seniors like herself along for a short jaunt in the wilderness. 

Doing what she’s doing at her age gives her a feeling of accomplishment every time a hike is complete. 

“To me, hiking fixes everything,” Qualizza said. “And just so you know, we’ll be going to Silver Lake up at Brighton the 27th of this month. You’d probably better go.”