One of James Ivery’s favorite pastimes is going fishing—then giving away his catches to neighbors at New Community Gardens Senior. A serious fishing hobbyist, Ivery travels to Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maryland, among other locations, to reel in sea bass and porgy. When he comes home to his apartment on the second floor of Gardens Senior, where Ivery has been a floor captain for five years, he’s happy to share his catches with residents who he says are like family.
In addition to fishing trips, Ivery and other residents often cook meals and share plates of food as the aromas from various kitchens waft into the hall and entice neighbors to visit each other.
“If it’s the end of the month and they’re running short, you help them,” said Ivery, who turns 74 on October 30. “Everybody says it’s the best floor here.”
As floor captain, Ivery says his responsibility is to check on residents who are sick and alert the Health and Social Services staff, if needed. He also sweeps the hallway and welcomes people when they first move in by offering to assist them in whatever way he can.
For Ivery, volunteering at Gardens Senior, where he’s lived for about 15 years, has helped to keep him active after he retired in 2011 from working at Hollywood Cemetery in Union for 32 years.
“I was retired and had nothing to do. When you work so long, it’s hard being home all day,” he said.
Each morning, Ivery stops by Care Coordinator Angelique Christopher’s office to greet her and offers a helping hand with special events. “He’s always willing to give of his time,” Christopher said. “He’s just a swell dude.”
Born in Bainbridge, Ga., Ivery learned to fish on his grandfather’s farm about 20 miles north in Colquitt. Crafting fishing poles out of bamboo, he was soon hooked. Ivery moved to Florida during his early adolescence, then in 1959 he came to Newark and lived in an apartment on Bruce Street with his sisters. He got a job at a candy factory constructing boxes for lollipops, tootsie rolls and bubble gum. After a few years, he went into the construction field and later landed a job at the cemetery, where he was a backhoe operator.
Though he faced the reality of death daily, Ivery didn’t become morbid. (He joked that he would nap under the trees because the dead don’t disturb you.) However, around 2007, Ivery began coughing while at work and decided to make some drastic lifestyle changes to improve his health. He said he gave up cigarettes and beer—cold turkey—and hasn’t touched either since then. “I feel good today, thanks to God,” Ivery said, his words inflected with a southern drawl.
And that’s good news because Ivery recently got remarried. His first wife, Diane, died in February of 2006. The two had six children. Six months ago, Ivery and his now wife, Shelly, tied the knot at the Hall of Records. Afterwards, they had dinner with her parents and Ivery’s children. “I’m happy and she’s happy,” he said.