Retired Firefighter 'UnRetires' as Home Instead CAREGiver
Kookie Rackley became the first certified African American female firefighter with the Tallahassee Fire Department. In her career as a firefighter, Kookie talked a despondent Florida State college student off a roof and danced her way around live wires at a burning tire factory on West Gaines Street. A single mother with three young sons to feed, Kookie met the tough training regimen head on when she joined the fire department in 1980.
“A good friend told me when I applied that a lot of men had tried and didn’t make it, and that I shouldn’t give up my day job just yet. That made me say, ‘I’ll show you!'”
Kookie did, indeed, show them by making firefighting her career for more than 25 years. She retired in 2005. She went on to work in the bailiff’s and warrant’s divisions of the Leon County sheriff’s office. Kookie retired a second time in 2014 after her husband was diagnosed with cancer. With her work pension as income, Kookie thought she might retire for good.
A New Career
“Retirement was not for me,” said Kookie, a 60-plus grandmother of 10. So after her husband recovered, Kookie’s career took a new direction toward caring for older adults.
“Caring for my husband made me feel as though I needed to be there for others,” Kookie said. A high school friend working for Home Instead® told Kookie she’d be a great fit, so she joined the international caregiving company in February 2016. “I’d always loved being around seniors because they have such wisdom, and I had worked with older adults doing fire safety and prevention at the fire department.”
Forging a Special Relationship
In her role as a Home Instead CAREGiver℠, Kookie worked with an 88-year-old woman who has a great sense of humor and is an avid reader who has read at least 3,000 books in her lifetime.
“Every time I walked in the door I did a little dance, and she would dance with me. She always told me she loved me. We loved each other. She sat on the sofa, and I’d sit beside her and she always wanted to hold my hand. She truly loved me. She constantly told me that. She had Alzheimer’s disease, but she always remembered my name. As a matter fact, she called all other CAREGivers by my name. That’s quite an honor that she associated other CAREGivers who took care of her as me.”
Kookie spent time with the client at night ensuring she was safe, and together they enjoyed watching CNN news and HGTV. “After tucking her in, we always ended the night with this ritual: ‘Good night, sleep tight and never let the bed bugs bite.’”
Working continues to keep Kookie’s mind stimulated, as does her role as a Sunday school and Bible school teacher at her church, Faith and Worship Ministries Church in Lloyd, FL. “The mind is like a muscle that gets weak if you don’t use it,” she noted. “There’s a great benefit to work as long as you adore what you are doing. People are constantly telling me I should retire – that I have enough money. But people should make their own choices. Try to find something you enjoy doing … Unless my husband needs me, I’ll do Home Instead until death do us part.”