Family's loving caregiver spoke her mind

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

Dorothy Layko once won a radio contest with the best nickname for a grandmother.

Her grandson John couldn't pronounce “Grandma” when he was young, so he called her “Guppy,” and the name stuck.

“She seemed to like it,” said John Layko Torkelson, now 27. “She knew it came out of a place of love.”

Dorothy J. Layko, 85, of Derry Township had heart and lung problems and passed away on Saturday, May 11, 2013.

Her daughter, Dr. Shirley Layko of Midland, Mich., said she was grateful for the years her mother spent caring for her children while she and her late husband, David Torkelson, were studying medicine.

After Mrs. Layko's husband, John Layko, died in 1980, she traveled with her daughter's family from 1986 to 1998, first to Albuquerque then to Midland, Mich., taking care of her four grandchildren.

“She basically gave her life to me for my kids,” Shirley Layko said.

Mrs. Layko chaperoned the children — John; Natalie, now 25; Lars, 21; and Mark, 20 — to soccer games and sewed dance costumes.

She made delicious apple pies, a tradition at the family's Thanksgiving dinners. Mrs. Layko gave her granddaughter step-by-step instructions last year over the phone when she was too ill to do it herself. Another speciality was Kraft macaroni and cheese, even though it was from a box.

“Everybody that you ever knew who ate it didn't know what she did, but they loved it,” Shirley Layko said.

Neither of the elder Laykos had a college education but knew how it would impact their daughter's life.

“They both reinforced with me that education was really important and you can do anything as long as you try,” Shirley Layko said.

Mrs. Layko was one of six children, and her father was a coal miner, so her family moved around a lot as he looked for work, said nephew George Moore.

She was a “rabble-rouser” when she was young and continued to be outspoken as she got older. But she was a selfless caregiver for decades, beginning with her father-in-law, who fell ill in the early 1970s, Moore said.

“She opened her home to take care of him,” he said.

Mrs. Layko cared for her sister, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1998, as well as her mother, then brother-in-law, who died in 2009.

She didn't hesitate to speak her mind to her charges, reminding them to take their medicine or follow doctors' orders, Moore said.

“Dorothy was always somebody you turned to when you needed something,” he said.

Arrangements are being handled by Matthew X. Merlin Funeral Home, 529 N. Chestnut St., Derry, where a funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday with the Rev. William A. Schaefer officiating. Interment will be in Coles Cemetery, Derry.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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