South Park assisted living food service director, awarded for devotion
In the kitchen, as in life, Jadranko Jandric often starts from scratch.
In speech still leavened by the deep cadence of Croatia, “Jay” Jandric welcomes employees and residents to the dining room at Mount Vernon of South Park, the assisted-living community where he has prepared meals for five years.
“The residents here, they lost a lot of what they used to eat, what their mothers made them, you know,” said Jandric, 44, of Brentwood. “Their parents died, and they just adapted to modern stuff. I get to make them their memories now.”
The Pennsylvania Health Care Association and Center for Assisted Living Management presented Jandric with their annual “Hero Award” this week.
He is devoted, co-workers say, to being the best boss and caretaker possible.
“He’s really fussy about what the dining room looks like,” dietary aide Deborah Changeri said. “He goes out of his way for the residents. No detail is too small.”
From delicate chocolate and custard-filled Serbian pastries to pan-fried drumsticks, Jandric labors, she said.
And when a barrel-chested former commandant of Bosnian central forces dons a Santa apron or bunny ears, folks are apt to listen up.
Jandric immigrated to the United States with a budding family 17 years ago, swapping one Steel City — Zenica, Croatia — for another.
He worked his way up from a stock boy making minimum wage in a Downtown hotel to his position as Mount Vernon’s food service director. Today, his office walls are blanketed with keepsakes — snapshots, cards and letters.
“Thank you very much. For a while you’ve taken care of our father. He always liked talking to you in our language,” wrote one family in Croatian script.
“When they’ve been here 60 to 70 years, they speak only English for that time,” Jandric said. “They forget they can speak another language until they hear mine. They pick it back up right away.”
He once walked six miles in blizzard-like conditions to get to work, determined to cook for the 100-plus residents and employees in his care, administrators said. The latticework water feature in the corner of the dining room? He made it. The whole-hog rotisserie employees prepare and serve every September? He built that, too.
“He makes the best home cooking,” said resident Rita Marcus, 65. “And if he makes you something special, like the veggie pizza, man! It’s just to die for.”
The patients don’t balk at relaying their occasional dissatisfaction either, Jandric said, thanking her.
“I was many times on the bottom,” he said. “When you experience something close to death as we have, you work hard to bring others happiness. Just like in cooking, you change the recipe to make it better, to make it your own.”
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or [email protected].