She is the self-proclaimed A-OK Lady and she was in Hillsboro this week spreading her message of mental health awareness, kindness, hope and compassion.
Seventy-year-old Susann Castore hails from Columbus and is not a shy lady. When she spreads her message she wears a costume reminiscent of Superman. She describes a life filled with various problems before she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and recovered. She said her nickname, the A-OK Lady, means “acts of kindness.”
Since 2013, and despite not being able to travel last year, she says she has traveled 5,100 self-funded miles “to promote kindness, hope and compassion in Ohio with the hope that Ohio can be a model for other states to follow.”
“My goal, my dream is that when Michigan peeks in on us, I want them to see us all working together,” she said this week in The Times-Gazette offices. “One person at a time, we can create a difference.”
In the pockets of her costume Castore carries small, confetti-like smiley faces. When she meets someone, she gives them at least two of them.
“A smile to keep and a smile to give away,” she said.
She will endlessly share her experiences and travels, and says she is somewhat dyslexic and does not drive at night. Before it gets dark when she’s on the road she looks for a place to stay, sometimes getting discount rates from hotels or motels. If she can’t get a discount, she’ll try to find someone to stay with, promising to wash dishes, sweep the floors or perform some other task in exchange for a place to sleep.
She found herself in such a predicament Monday after “landing” in Hillsboro.
It was almost pitch dark, she said, and had no luck getting the rate she wanted at local motels.
“It was dark and I got lost and ended up at Noreen’s School of Dance,” Castore said. “I was sitting in my car, wondering what I was going to do, when a woman leaned over my car and asked if she could help.”
The woman told Castore she knew Hillsboro First United Methodist Church minister Derek Russell. So after receiving a phone call, Russell went to the dance school, talked with Castore, then decided it was OK to call a church couple to see if they could help the A-OK Lady.
“My thought was there is an expectation in the gospel that we’re going to welcome a stranger in our midst,” Russell said. “I just think we’re in the helping business when it comes to serving others in the world, and I’d like to think we would help people regardless of who they are or what they seem.”
The wife of the couple Russell contacted, who asked not to be identified, said Russell told them, “I couldn’t think of anybody but you guys that I’d have nerve enough to ask.”
So, the couple went and met Castore, then decided they’d put her up for the night.
“She was very unusual, but we really had a good time with her,” the wife said. “Her story was very touching and very interesting. It’s something, the way she operates. I’m not sure it’s safe… But I think the whole thing was kind of an example of how when God wants something, it happens whether we want it to or not.”
She said she did not want to be identified because she doesn’t want publicity for what she does for God.
Meanwhile, the A-OK Lady said that there are times in life when people are supposed to do certain things. So, she said she will continue her mission, shedding light on mental illness, while spreading kind words and smiles.
“Smiles are the magical, mysterious, and magnificent connections that occur between human beings, creating sparks of light that electrify and ignite – the spirit of goodness and goodwill in ourselves and others and helps us create, in the process, a spirit of integrity, trust and openness to help diffuse hatred and violence, prejudice and misunderstanding,” Castore said.
“The action of committing and exchanging A-OKs with one another helps to create and nurture an environment of harmony and peace around the U.S.A.,” she said. “It kindles hope and creates and fosters a kinder environment for everyone to enjoy.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.