The joy of work

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Burden going strong after open heart surgery

By Vince Luecke

Lilly Burden's hands are worn, but her heart beats with the determination of a woman decades younger. Her heart is in remarkably good shape after open-heart surgery last year. Burden, who was 92 at the time, bounced back quickly and still works four days a week. That's right, Lilly holds down a job, contributes payroll taxes and wouldn't have it any other way.


"I enjoy working, whether it's at my job or in my garden," she says, seated, hands folded on the kitchen table in her Girl Scout Road home.

Burden's life is one of ordinary joys and heartaches, something most of us can relate to, caring for a loving family, sharing faith, coping with loss and helping others. Burden says life's virtues are simple: patience, determination, love and understanding.

Burden works for Dr. James Rogan, a Tell City physician, helping care for his home and his son, Chris.

Burden saw an ad in the paper seeking a family helper, a nanny for the family. Though she thought her age would disqualify her, Burden applied for the job.

A couple of weeks later, she went to see Rogan, as a patient.

He asked her about the application and said he was offering her the position.

She was just the person he was looking for.

"I never thought he would hire anyone as old as me," she said. She was wrong and Burden has become a cherished member of the family. She provided care for Chris as he grew into a young man, does day-to-day housework and has become a powerful guiding force, Rogan said.

"She's a remarkable woman who loves life and lives it to the fullest," he said.

Burden loves her job and "doesn't like it when either of us tries to do a job that's hers," Rogan said.

Burden still drives, though a gradual decline in her eyesight keeps her behind the wheel only in daylight. She will eventually have to hang up the keys.

Burden is proud of her garden. Tomatoes, okra and squash grow in a space carved out of lawn.

Lilly and a friend had decided to garden together but the other woman had to back out.

Watching the comings and goings at Lilly's house is Chang, who she describes as "part Eskimo dog." Lounging in the partial shade of the front porch, Chang is a good guardian who seems to be lounging constantly but actually watches Burden closely, especially around strangers.

"He normally doesn't like his picture taken. He must know you're a good person," Burden says after a reporter snaps photos of the dog. Chang bats an eye and then returns to dreamland.

Reared in Hancock County, Burden remembers the challenges of the Depression years and families living off the bounty of farm and garden.

She awaits the time when her son and his family moves back home. Her husband passed away several years ago and after spending some time closer to family out of state, she came to the home on the paved road east of Cannelton.

Burden was a welder during World War II in Evansville, one of the few women who wanted the hot, relentless work. "Most women wanted the dainty jobs, but she knew welders got paid a lot more," Rogan said. "She could do what anyone else could."

Burden was worried when she found out that a valve in her heart needed replacement. Her St. Mary's Health System surgeon, Waji Mohammad, had difficulty talking her into the open-heart procedure. For her age, Burden's health was great and when Burden finally consented, doctors didn't give her time to change her mind.

"Once I said I'd do it, I asked when they wanted to do it," she said. The answer was "tomorrow."

Burden bounced back as quickly and after recovering briefly with the Rogans, was back in her routine.

Burden has been gardening this summer and is enjoying the fruits of her work. She tires, but knows when to rest.

"I go inside and nap or read. I know how to pace myself," she said. "I know when to go slow."

More photos of Lilly Burden can be found on the Slide Show area of this site.