By Leigh Ann Rutledge
If you saw Susann Castore walking down the street, you might not notice the petite, gray haired 70-year old.
If you saw her walking the street dressed as the A-OK Lady in a red cape carrying a big yellow smiley face you would certainly notice her.
While on opposite ends of the spectrum, the two personas are one and the same. Castore, aka The A-Ok Lady, is the Goodwill Ambassador of Kindness for the State of Ohio. She is touring Ohio spreading compassion, kindness and hope.
The A-Ok Lady visited Carroll County in October, making a stop at St. John’s Villa. She visited those in the adult services area, spreading cheer and smiles. Regardless of what was required, including sitting on the floor, she managed to bring a smile to everyone’s face.
How did Castore become the A-Ok Lady? Why is she traveling around Ohio promoting kindness?
Castore is from Oceanport, NJ. She married a psychology professor, earned a master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance and gave birth to two children. She became the director of guidance for a junior-senior high school in Indiana with 750 students.
She says her life changed one day when she attempted to take her life. “A car literally stopped in front of my car to keep me from swerving off the road. That car saved my life,” stated Castore. “The police came and took me to a health facility.”
Over the next 16 years, she was in 39 hospitals across three states and survived five suicide attempts before she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and dyslexia. Her family was angry with her, thinking she was faking, acting out to get attention. As a result, her 43-year marriage came to an end.
“During one of my hospital stays, a woman named Grace came into my room and told me to get out of bed,” Castore stated. “She told me if I didn’t get out of bed, I wouldn’t get better. I was a licensed professional counselor. I knew this.” Eventually she got out of the bed.
During another stay, she got to know a fellow patient, a male who wouldn’t take his medicine or get out of bed. After a time, they were both able to be released. The man was taking his medicine correctly and they were going to be released on the same day. “He said to me, ‘If it wasn’t for your acts of kindness, I wouldn’t be leaving this place’,” she said. “It clicked: acts of kindness – A-Ok. That is when I became the A-Ok Lady.”
On New Year’s Day of 2005, a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch saw her and called her the “Acts of Kindness Lady” which she has shortened to the “A-Ok” Lady. As her health continued to improve, she went to Ohio Governor John R. Kasich and Cheryl L. Grossman, majority whip in the Ohio House of Representatives and received commendations as the “Goodwill Ambassador of Kindness for the State of Ohio.”
To date, The A-Ok Lady has traveled 5,000 miles across Ohio spreading kindness and smiles. In fact, in her travels she often can be found walking a “mile of smiles”, visiting with people and handing out plastic smiley faces.
Her attire consists of a red cape (to stop crime, violence and prejudice); a blue or gold shirt (spiritual connection); a mask (which we all wear both internally and externally); floral pants (representing the environment); and red boots (a gift from her son).
As the A-Ok Lady, Castore hopes to continue visiting villages and cities, large and small across the state. “Ohio is the ‘heart of it all’ and we have so much to discover,” she air quoted. “I want Ohio to be a model for other states. What do you have if you drop the letter ‘o’ from Ohio? You have ‘hi’ and if you drop the ‘h’ you have the letter ‘I’ which means I can make a difference.”
As a Goodwill Ambassador, she is the founder of The Kindness Exchange, an outreach campaign around the state of Ohio, under the nonprofit “hopescapes.” Her mission is to encourage and educate, inspire and enlist individuals around the state of Ohio to be members of The Kindness Exchange, serving as Goodwill Ambassadors of Kindness in the cities, towns and communities where they live and to promote kindness, hope and compassion to people they encounter in their daily lives.
Castore/The A-Ok Lady resides in Columbus, which she says is the hub of her campaign, much like the sun is the hub of our universe. Like the sun’s rays, the A-Ok lady plans to continue to reach out and share compassion, kindness and hope.
For more information about the A-Ok Lady, visit her website at www.connect2smiles.com.