HEADstrong Heroes: Meet Ed Sminkey

By Joseph Santoliquito

It’s just around the corner from where they live temporarily now. He can’t forget it. Ed Sminkey won’t forget it. Although it’s been over 60 years, it’s still fresh in his mind. The attractive girl in the lavender shirtwaist dress. Ed and Rosalie had been dating for some time, but that night, the night Rosalie glowed in pale purple at the Players Club of Swarthmore, that was the night Ed fell in love with Rosalie.

They met on a blind date. Sixty-two years later, Ed, 86, and Rosalie, 84, are still together. They finish each other’s sentences. They know each other’s thoughts. Nothing has to be said. A quick darting look, or a familiar grin can evoke a message.

So, when Ed’s blood work started showing some irregular signs, Ed and Rosalie sought medical attention, which led to Ed being diagnosed with prostate cancer in July 2021 at the University of Pennsylvania. Tears didn’t fill his eyes. Rosalie knew by looking at Ed’s straight-forward stare that the diagnosis wouldn’t scare him.

What did was the cost of staying in the Philadelphia area while Ed was being treated. The family, originally from Sharon Hill, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, now living in Key West, Florida, didn’t know how they would defray the rising expenses. That’s when their daughter, Bernadette McCall, brought up a place she heard about from one of the Penn Hospital social workers—the HEADstrong Foundation’s Nick’s House in Swarthmore.

It’s where Ed and Rosalie moved in on Wednesday, September 22, and will be staying there until a week before Thanksgiving, while Ed undergoes treatment.

It also happens to be right around the corner from the Players Club of Swarthmore, where Ed fell in love with Rosalie.

“That’s interesting that one of our first dates was right around where we are now in Nick’s House,” recalled Rosalie, who has five children with Ed, they have eight grandchildren and four great grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 12. “This has been wonderful. If not for HEADstrong, we wouldn’t have been able to afford this. The costs were rising and it would have been really difficult to pay for it.

“Cheryl Colleluori and her family have really welcomed us in. This works really well for us. We take the SEPTA train into the city and everything is right there. Everything is so convenient. Everything that we’ve experienced has been a blessing. Bernadette took care of everything, and she’s still talking to the doctors every day and making all of the appointments for us.

“When we heard about Nick’s House, it was unbelievable.”

In many ways like Ed and Rosalie themselves.

Ed served in the U.S. military between Korea and Vietnam, and when he returned home, he was 23. Ed just finished a long-term relationship and Rosalie was 21 and had just gotten out of a relationship herself. They were introduced to each other by mutual friends on a bowling date.

Soon after, they went to a show at the Players Club of Swarthmore.

“I was working at a little sheet metal shop in Folcroft and one of the brake operators was in the show,” Ed recalled. “We went to watch the show and after the show, I fell in love with Rosalie. I loved the outfit she was in. I can’t forget it.”

Rosalie worked at General Electric in center city Philadelphia for years, and the two eventually came together again and worked at Lockheed Martin until 1997, when they retired. Ed was 62 and Rosalie was 60. By then, with their children raised, they had moved to Springfield, Delaware County.

But neither of them could sit still.

So, they both went back to work for about five more years, driving school buses for the Springfield School District. Ed drove big buses and Rosalie drove the smaller bus for special-education students.

The pair are inseparable—and still very affectionate.

“They’re amazing, and they run circles around me,” Bernadette said, laughing. “They enjoy life and have been around each other for over 60 years. When my father heard he had cancer, he almost acted as if he didn’t have it. But that’s the way my parents are. They approach everything the same way: That things will always go the right way.

“The beauty of Dr. (Arun) Goel is that he listened to my father. When we realized the whole process would not be as quick as we thought, we started to look around to see where we could get help. My parents have limited funds. Even if all five of us (Ed and Rosalie’s children) pitched in, the expenses would have still been exorbitant. When I reached out to a social worker, she gave us Nick’s House.

“I thought that was the best thing for us. Not just because they took my parents in, but because they’re so involved with people and they care. They care like my parents care. My parents got up to Philadelphia a few weeks and found a nun from one of the local parishes. They saw she was alone and they took her out to lunch. It’s just the kind of people that they are. They’ll fit right in with Nick’s House and the people associated with the house. They adopt everyone that’s around them. They’re extremely positive people.”

Ed Sminkey grew up just outside of Philadelphia, although he really grew up riding alongside his father on a horse-drawn milk cart, helping his father deliver milk every day. There, almost quite literally on his father’s lap, Ed learned the simple value of showing up to work every day and doing your job.

What was ingrained then remained.

When Ed and Rosalie moved down to Key West in 2005 to live above their daughter, Joanna Cooper, they choose to volunteer for the S.O.S. Soup Pantry, which aids low-income families and homeless people. They were the first employees of S.O.S. The owner was so impressed by Ed’s work ethic that he named five trucks after him.

Ed and Rosalie would take daily trips to local supermarkets to garner day-old food and the food that was not edible was given to a local zoo that’s associated with a Key West prison, which feeds the animals.

In 2020, COVID-19 hit, and Ed and Rosalie couldn’t make the truck runs anymore. Their age made them susceptible to COVID.

“That killed my dad,” Bernadette said. “He loves to work. My parents have to give back. If you’re around them, you can’t help but be positive. They give everybody hope.”

To learn more about Nick’s House, other families that have stayed there and the how you can support that as well as the other programs that HEADstrong provides to families in need, visit HEADstrong.org or follow on social media at @HEADstrongFND.