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A long, but fruitful pharmacy journey

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GLENCOE, Ill. — This is a story about Edwin Levin, an 82-year-old native of Chicago’s northern suburbs. Levin, a registered pharmacist, has spent much of his life behind or in front of various prescription counters, dispensing prescriptions, offering advice and generally doing what the most accomplished people in his profession routinely do: advise and counsel those local customers who need and appreciate advice and counsel.

For much of his adult years, Levin could be regularly found at a small chain of local drug stores, Parkway Drugs. For a time, Levin enjoyed an ownership position at Parkway Drugs. At other times during that period, he was a valued and essential staff member, regularly available to local residents who came to the store to fill a prescription and, in the process, obtain some invaluable advice and reassurance. Though he became, in time, indispensable to community residents, the self-effacing Levin acknowledged only that he was merely doing his job. “I’m a pharmacist,” he recently told a friend. “Helping people is what I do.”

Through the years Levin had other jobs — and other responsibilities — as well. For 26 years he had run the Hubbard Woods Pharmacy in neighboring Winnetka. Along the way, he became adept at compounding drugs. But throughout his adult professional life what he was most known and appreciated for in the community was doing what the most capable pharmacists routinely do: helping people.

That idyllic professional existence began to change, as the pharmacy profession itself was changing, in 2010, when Parkway was acquired by a major national drug chain. Initially, the plan was to do away with the Parkway name. But the outcry from local residents objecting to the change prompted the new owners to retain the Parkway name, adding that it was now owned by its acquirer.

Because of the outcry the company also kept Levin on for another 10 years; during that time he worked mainly as a compounding pharmacist and continued to help his customers. But early last year the corporate Parkway, anticipating big changes in compounding that would require a special laboratory, decided to cut Levin’s hours and make him a floater.

Finally, the inevitable happened. At age 82, a time when most working people had long since retired, Levin was terminated. He quickly realized that the opportunities for pharmacists his age were few and far between. Still, he wanted to continue doing that job that he loved. Moreover, he saw no diminishing of his skills. And he still enjoyed intersecting with customers, especially those he had come to know particularly well over his career. Mostly, he resented the implication that he could no longer keep up with the demands of his profession. He gradually came to accept the fact that, in order to support his wife and himself, he would have to sell his home. After all, he reasoned, who would want to hire an 82-year-old pharmacist?

Things began to brighten up a bit when a friend suggested he broaden his job search by turning to Next Door, a local social media site, for assistance. Becoming familiar with the site, he decided to post a message under the heading “looking for employment.” The response was immediate and dramatic.

Within days, Levin received hundreds of responses. Some respondents offered job suggestions. Others suggested teaching as an option. One respondent offered the idea of consulting an attorney.

But the majority of those who reached out to Levin did so to remind him of what he had meant to them during his years at Parkway. They wrote of his many kindnesses, of his willingness to go beyond the requirements of the job, to take the extra step. One Highland Park resident reminded him that he had been a delivery boy at Parkway during Levin’s tenure there. Another remarked that he and a friend were talking about Levin’s many kindnesses only the other day. And several responders promised to look around for job opportunities. As one summed up the thoughts of many: “You have been nothing but wonderful to four generations of our family.” Added another: My family “has counted on you behind the counter for 25 years, and in return we have received humor, professionalism and confidence. Thank you.”

Levin, not surprisingly, was astonished by this response, claiming that he was only doing his job. Local residents obviously thought otherwise.

Among all the responses, one was particularly valuable. That response came from Vlada Korol, another Glencoe pharmacist. She reminded Levin that in 2009, when her newborn son was ill and needed a drug compounded, her own pharmacy couldn’t do it. But Levin did.

As it happened, Korol, a Russian immigrant, owned two drug stores, in Wheeling and Buffalo Grove, at the time (she still does), and recalled signing a petition in an attempt to stop Parkway’s new owners from decimating the staff. She fondly recalls that she made certain to note, next to her signature, that she was a Pharm.D.

What happened next is, as they say, history. After reading Levin’s plea for employment, she couldn’t wait to reach out to the 80-something-year-old pharmacist — and offer him employment.

So began the next chapter in Eddie Levin’s professional career. How is it working out? We’ll let Korol tell you. “He is a treasure,” she said recently. “What he knows about pharmacy, younger pharmacists don’t begin to know.”

Other local residents share that view. Typical is the recollection of a former pharmacy manager at Parkway Drugs whom the new owner brought in after the acquisition. “To put it mildly, I was not warmly received,” she recalls. I was the enemy.” There was, however, one notable exception to this treatment. “Eddie put his arm around me and told everyone to welcome me,” she recalls. “I can’t express what that gesture meant to me.”

When we last checked, Eddie Levin was still at the old — or, rather, new — stand, doing what he has always done better than just about ever.


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