Kenneth Mayer is the son of an English mother and an Austrian father. His parents were living in England at the beginning of World War II, but they immigrated to Bolivia in 1939 because his Austrian father would be considered an enemy alien, even though he was Jewish. He was born in Bolivia in a small mining camp 14000 feet up in the Andes. The family stayed in Bolivia until the mines were nationalized in1951 moving at that time to Lima, Peru. In 1960 the company moved the family again, this time to South Africa, where they remained for three years.
In 1963, his father returned to Peru and, at that time, Kenneth came to Pittsburgh to begin his college studies in Industrial Management at Carnegie Institute of Technology –renamed Carnegie Mellon University at the time he graduated in ‘67. His studies combined engineering and business, and he has always been glad that he did both. He went on to do an MBA at the University of Pittsburgh. He was married soon after graduation.
Kenneth’s wife, Katja, had an amazingly similar childhood and youth. She was born in Ecuador of Czech parents who had also fled Europe during the Nazi years. The family returned to Czechoslovakia in 1947, only to leave again in ‘48 when the Russians took over! This time her family moved to Canada and ultimately to the US.
Kenneth met Katja on a blind date set up by one of his workmates in New York City. They were married 18 months later. … When Kenneth completed his Masters’ degree, he moved back to NY to join the company in which his father worked. Within a year he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was fortunate enough to spend the next two years stateside in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he remained for the duration of his service. His wife, a nurse, joined him in South Carolina, taking a job in the army hospital.
In 1971, they returned to New York and Kenneth rejoined the company in which he had started his career. He and Katja bought a house in Rockland County where they used their spare time and energy making major renovations to the house. From this time forward his career is one of working for trading companies in the machinery side of the poultry industry– he kept searching for the perfect situation until, in 1982, he decided to start his own company in the same field, which he ran successfully for the next 20 years. The business involved a lot of travel – first in the Far East, frequently to Latin America, Africa, many European countries, and to Pakistan about five times a year for many years.
The excitement of travel eventually wore thin, so Kenneth “put his company to sleep” in 2000 and, after trying a brief stint with another company on Marco Island, Florida, he and Katja decided to go back north. They bought a house in East Otis, and for the last nine years, have really loved living in the Berkshires.
Once settled in Otis, they both found freelance work – Katja had switched from nursing to the medical liability and risk management field many years before, and now took on some consulting work, and Kenneth put his previous renovation experience to work as a handyman, until he decided to retire altogether.
Kenneth’s introduction to VIM came through reading a column by Alan Chartock in the Berkshire Eagle, which mentioned VIM’s need for interpreters. His first volunteer work at VIM was at the reception desk two afternoons a week where he enjoyed his interaction with both English and Spanish speaking patients. He continues to be called on to help out as an interpreter on occasion and to fill-in at the reception desk.
Kenneth moved on to coordinate the nutrition clinic, and then the acupuncture clinic. He is currently working with Dr. Herman in the optometry clinic, a new venture for him. He has helped train other volunteers as they gather and enter patient data into the centralized computer system. Kenneth enjoys having people speak to him in their own language, which makes them feel comfortable, at ease and welcome. He is glad to be a part of making this happen at VIM.
What does he find rewarding about volunteering at VIM? “Just being able to be a contributing part of the clinic that provides such a valuable service within the community, helping people who need the help, that’s what I find most rewarding.”