Social Security

by DanWolgemuth on February 5, 2021

It was August 14, 1935 when the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, but it was just this week that this act became more personal. No, I haven’t started receiving my benefits, but as Mary and I begin to think about our financial plans for the years ahead, it now factors in.

As we pondered and planned, I was drawn to a document that I’ve had on my desk since Mary’s Mom passed away last June. It was a vintage document that Eunice had in her files… and that has now landed on my desk, and into my keepsakes. Today, and more importantly, it informs my reflections.

The document is a Certificate that came from the Social Security Administration for Lizzie Jankila, of Calumet, Michigan. Lizzie was Eunice’s Mom, Mary’s grandmother. Lizzie, and her husband, Benjamin, were immigrants who met in the Copper Country of Michigan. Finnish by heritage, but Americans by choice. Benjamin was a copper miner. A man who walked to and from the mine every day. Never a car. Only a work ethic that exposed his love for his family and his deep Lutheran faith.

In his mid-sixties, while in his small, but warm home on Liberty Street in Calumet, Benjamin had a heart attack that took his life.

In May of 1949, Lizzie was notified that she would begin to receive a monthly income from Social Security (actually, she was notified in May, but the first check was sent in April… go figure!).

The amount of the check… $18.32.  

Let that sink in. $18.32 a month. That’s $219.84 a year. She was also notified that if she earned more than $14.99 a month, she would not be eligible to receive her monthly check.

Lizzie Jankila lived 30 years without her husband. But it wasn’t the $18.32 a month that kept her going… it was love and faith and family commitment and deeply rooted Finnish traditions that anchored her heart and soul.  

Her “Social Security” was not defined by an $18.32 monthly check. Lizzie’s legacy was not calibrated by the $6,500 she received from the Treasury Department over her remaining lifetime.

No, it was poured liberally into the lives of her eight living children. And from them to their children. And from those children to me, and the cascading names that connect to a patriarch and matriarch. Benjamin and Lizzie. People I never met. But people I esteem.

Many talk today about the insolvency of Social Security, but I beg to differ. Authentic Social Security is not sent from the Treasury Department, but from the love and faith and grit and commitment and courage of those who are not defined by anything but character that is embedded deeply in a love for Christ and His Kingdom values.

$18.32. To Lizzie Jankila, it was not her Social Security.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned.

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