A satisfying sense of closure for Mil Agnor

Mil Agnor 1 by Bruce Stambaugh
Mil Agnor with some of the artwork she brought back from Romania.

By Bruce Stambaugh

You can see it in her eyes, in her smile and in her body language. Mil Agnor finally has closure.

Earlier this year, the 80-year-old former Millersburg, Ohio resident had her two-year term of service with the Peace Corps in Romania unexpectedly interrupted. After a routine physical exam, she was sent back to the United States for more medical work.

Agnor was diagnosed with bladder cancer, underwent surgery and treatment, and was glad to be up and around and physically well. But something was missing in her life. She had to leave her Peace Corps teaching assignment without saying goodbye to her students, cohorts and friends.

“I didn’t have a chance to say thank you and goodbye,” Agnor said. “I didn’t feel like I had closure.”

The self-assured and talented Agnor was determined to correct that situation. Once she got the medical all clear, Agnor began planning a trip back to Romania. She left Oct. 12 and returned to her new home in Stow Oct. 26 a very satisfied person.

Agnor didn’t make the trip alone. She took along 400 refrigerator magnets that she had made at a print shope in Millersburg. She handed them out to her former students, fellow staff, Peace Corps partners, parents, school and government officials, and even to people she met on the street.

“Romanian’s are very friendly,” Agnor said. “They were very appreciative.”

They should have been. The magnet was a photo of Agnor in front of the school where she taught English in Palanca, Romania. The magnets were inscribed in Romanian with heart-felt thanks from Agnor.

Below the U.S. and Romanian flags was the salutation, “For my dear friends in Palanca and Romania. My greatest thanks to you and your good health.” It was a keepsake anyone there would cherish, especially since Agnor had it made herself and personally handed it out.

That’s not all the generous and compassionate woman did. Teacher that she is, Agnor took along another small gift that created a memorable object lesson for her former students. She gave each student a Lincoln Head penny while sharing this little rhyme: “Find a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.”

She also seized the moment to teach the students about Abraham Lincoln, whose profile is on the coin.

“I told them all about Abe Lincoln, one of our most successful presidents,” Agnor said. “Like my students, he had a humble beginning, was honest, worked hard and loved to learn.”

Ribbon cutting by Bruce Stambaugh
As the honored guest, Mil Agnor assisted the school's principal, Dumitru Cojocaru and Palanca's mayor, Adrien Palistan, in cutting the ribbon to the new science lab.
To Agnor’s great delight, her hosts had a nice surprise for her, too. A dedication was held in her honor for the new science lab that Agnor helped create. She wrote a proposal for the lab, which was approved by Peace Corps officials in Romania and the U.S. The project, which included adding water and electricity in the unused room, totaled $9,300.

The local school raised 35 percent of the amount, 10 percent more than what was required, Agnor said. That amount included $275 collected by the students from selling jewelry and food. The balance was raised through donations to the Peace Corps.

The staff and students hustled to complete the science lab while she was visiting. A special celebration was held, requiring Agnor to stay in Palanca an extra day.

County and local officials and school personnel all acknowledged Agnor’s leadership role in helping to instigate and create the lab. Agnor said she felt honored to receive the recognition.

The biggest hit of the science lab was the smart board, which is basically a large interactive computer screen that allows teachers and students to share in researching and displaying projects. In addition, the monies raised help supply the lab with tables and chairs.

“The project had to be sustainable,” Agnor said. “We had to develop something that will be ongoing in the absence of Americans.” She said the Peace Corps would terminate its services in Romania within two years.

Agnor’s service in Romania is completed, but her dedication to helping there is not.

“I’m going to find a way to continue to work in some nonprofit approach here to help my friends in Romania,” she said. Given her commitment and determination, she will likely be successful at that as well.

Mil Agnor quilt by Bruce Stambaugh
Agnor's students gave her a hand print quilt they made. She was also given the summer wedding vest that she is wearing as a thank you gift.

A change of plans for Mil Agnor

By Bruce Stambaugh

Mil Agnor is returning to Romania, but not to continue her Peace Corps service.

“I wanted to go back to say goodbye and thank you,” Agnor said.

Mil Agnor by Bruce Stambaugh
Mil Agnor

The gregarious Agnor had an unexpected change of plans. Earlier this year during an annual physical exam, the doctor found something she didn’t like.

The Peace Corps flew Agnor back to the United States via Medevac. She underwent a thorough exam and was diagnosed with a bladder cancer.

That changed everything for the adventuresome Agnor.

“When the Peace Corps flies you back for medical reasons, you have 45 days to get things in order,” Agnor explained. “If you can’t, your term is completed.”

That is exactly the scenario that played out for Agnor. She was unable though not unwilling to complete her two-year term. She was officially discharged from the Peace Corps August 3.

“I had my things all packed up before I had to leave,” Agnor said, “because I planned on moving to another house, not returning to Ohio.” The ever-dedicated Agnor knew she had to go back to Romania for more than her belongings.

“Life is all about relationships,” Agnor said. Though her volunteering was cut short, she made wonderful friends in the school and community of Palanca. Agnor needs this trip as much for them as for herself.

Agnor taught conversational English to 184 students in grades three through eight.

“These students live in the poorest part of Romania,” Agnor said. She said otherwise they would have very little exposure to the English language.

“The kids there have no organized activities,” she said. “We started after school programs and camps for them.”

When asked about someone her age going into the Peace Corps, Agnor just smiled and said, “I want to be remembered for something other than my age.”

Agnor said the Peace Corps actually markets to older people who have finished careers. Agnor had a quilting business in Holmes County for 28 years.

“I always admired the Amish in how they lived their lives,” Agnor said. She worked with several Amish women over the years to create custom quilts.

Agnor said she will spend two weeks in Romania bidding farewell and saying thanks. She will also do some traveling prior to returning to her new home in Stow, Ohio. Her son, Ross, lives in nearby Hudson.

“My intention was to at some point live close to him,” Agnor said. “It just got speeded up a bit.”

Agnor found what she called “a wonderful house at the end of a cul-de-sac.”

“There are lots of trees,” she said. “I have birdfeeders out, and I get to watch a Cooper’s Hawk chase a fox squirrel.”

Agnor said the surgery to remove the cancer was a success and that, other than losing some weight, she has no side effects from the immunotherapy treatments. She said she gets the treatments every six weeks initially, then every month for a year. After that, she will be monitored for the rest of her life.

The spunky senior made it clear that she has had no discomfort. Agnor said her situation is quite manageable and that she feels very fortunate and thankful that the Peace Corps doctors caught her cancer in an early stage.

“I have some good years yet,” she said. When she returns to Ohio at the end of the month, Agnor said she plans on volunteering at a library or in a park system.

“I love to sing,” she said, “so I’ll probably join a church choir, too.”

Volunteering is nothing new for Agnor. While in Millersburg, she served many years with the Holmes County Habitat for Humanity.

For now, Agnor will focus on revisiting her friends in Romania.

“I want to see the science lab that was started while I was there,” she said.

No doubt Agnor’s brief reunion with her former students and staff will be an emotional one. Agnor said the students made a quilt for her when they learned of her illness. The quilt had a cutout of each of their handprints on it.

There can also be no doubt that the effervescent Agnor will have lots to share about her goodbye tour of Romania once she returns home. That, of course, will be another exciting story in the energetic Agnor’s life.

Mil and Maric by Bruce Stambaugh
Mil Agnor and Romanian artist Ion Maric at an exhibit of his paintings in Palanca, Romania.

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