He’s spent 40 years saying thank you

Tim Schlameuss is using his second chance at life to help others


Tim Schlameuss doesn’t remember the accident in 1979 — the truck that came barreling through a red light on Peninsula Boulevard, slamming into his car and nearly killing him; the police who used the Jaws of Life to extract him from his vehicle; the helicopter that airlifted him to the Nassau County Medical Center, even though the EMTs were sure he wouldn’t make it.

What Schlameuss does remember is the warmth and kindness of the staff at what was then South Nassau Community Hospital as he underwent months of grueling rehabilitation. That kindness made such impression that in the years since, Schlameuss, of Lynbrook, has devoted more than 14,000 hours of his time to volunteering at the hospital. In honor of his service, he is the Herald’s 2023 Person of the Year.

“It was the people,” Schlameuss, 67, said of the staff of what is now Mount Sinai South Nassau. “They treat you as more than just as a job. They were concerned about you.”

The accident changed his life forever. He had to give up a career working in accounting. He has no stamina, he says. His once excellent memory now often falters. He has difficulty using the left side of his body; moving requires his full attention, or he’ll lose his balance. But Schlameuss describes these struggles with a lighthearted matter-of-factness that makes them sound like mere inconveniences. Rather than focus on what the accident took away from him, he focuses on what it gave him.

“It changed my life, but it made it good,” he said. “I love the way my life is right now. And I don’t know how my life would have been the other way.”

Schlameuss began volunteering in the hospital’s mailroom in 1983, and over the decades he has earned a reputation for being exceptionally friendly and kind.

“Friendly, helpful, patient, calm, caring and thoughtful,” Anne Fernandez, the hospital’s director of volunteers, said of Schlameuss. “He moves quietly, and brings a sense of calm when he enters an area or patient room.”

Those who work with him say he greets everyone he comes across, and never comes into the hospital without a smile on his face. He said he never realized he was smiling at people so often — it just comes naturally to him.

“This morning I was in BJ’s,” Schlameuss said recently with a laugh. “And there was this man with a kid who looked like he might have been 5 years old, snuggled in the cart with groceries. I smiled at him, and the guy smiled back at me.”

“That’s another thing I like about being nice to people,” he said. “People are nice back to you.”

Those kinds of interaction are what Schlameuss enjoys about the MSSN mailroom. He misses a time when people were always coming in to make copies, and he would exchange smiles and chat with them.

“Say, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ — It’s not a big thing,” he said. “It’s just what you should do.”

Fewer people need copies these days, and there’s less interaction since the pandemic. But Schlameuss still values the time he gets with the regulars who come in to drop off or pick up mail.

And he has found another way to help at the hospital — by bringing patients a little bit of faith. He serves as a Eucharistic minister at the facility, working with Sister Barbara Faber, of Our Lady of Peace, in Lynbrook — the parish he grew up in — to connect with a handful of Catholic patients on his rounds. But those few make the effort worth it for him.

“My opening line is, ‘I’m a Eucharistic minister,’” Schlameuss said. “‘I’m here to see if you want communion, to say a prayer, or to just say hi.’

“And this guy starts bursting into tears,” he recalled of one recent encounter. “I have no idea why he did. It moved him so much. He finally mumbled out, ‘To say a prayer.’

“There’s always somebody you touch,” he said.

Schlameuss’ faith is central to his volunteer work. His parents raised him to have a strong relationship with God, and another blessing of the accident, he said, was being able to take care of his late father, who had dementia, after his mother died in 1989.

“Hopefully, I think, I’m doing what God wants me to do,” he said. “Even volunteering in the mailroom. With the reactions I get, people liking me and stuff like that, I hope they’ll see God in me, and in them.

“Even when they don’t take the Eucharist,” he added. “Sometimes I have nice little chitchats with people, and hopefully I’m making them better and happier.”

When Schlameuss speaks about his life — whether of his difficulties since the accident, or his parents’ deaths, or the joys of smiling at people in the hospital or babies in the grocery store — he does so with a straightforwardness that leaves no room for insincerity. He gets straight to the point, and speaks straight from his heart. He has touched so many lives from the hospital mailroom because he has a simple, common-sense philosophy, a guiding principle that others too often neglect.

“I just think you should try to be nice to people,” he said. “That’s the basis of life.”