One World War II veteran’s weekly visit to the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook is not about using its services — it’s about his passion for helping.
Sheldon Polan, who retired from his career as a full-time optician in 1987, visits veterans at the home every Thursday to measure and fit patients for glasses and adjust the spectacles when they come in.
The Selden resident, who turns 91 Nov. 10, said he’s been helping out at the home for seven years through his son Andy Polan’s business, Stony Brook Vision World, which is an affiliated practitioner of the veterans home.
“One day Andy says to me, ‘Dad, I can’t get over there — maybe you can help to bail me out,’” Sheldon Polan said.
The number of patients the optician sees varies from one or two to seven or eight depending on the day. When it comes to interacting with his fellow veterans, Polan, who served his time at West Point, said he enjoys talking to them about their military experiences.
“It gives you a common ground,” the optician said. “It kind of relaxes them too. It’s not ‘What are you going to do next.’”
Recently, the elder Polan took 20 examinations to renew his license, which is now valid for three more years. Through the decades, he’s seen a lot of advances in eyeglasses, including eyewear going from thick glass, where eyeglass wearers felt like they were wearing Coke bottles, to lighter plastics.
Polan said he occasionally helps his son out at Stony Brook Vision World, relieving some of the rigors of business ownership. Andy Polan is the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and a former president of his synagogue.
Being an optician wasn’t the veteran’s original career plan though. He said he was making a good living working for a large gas station in Brooklyn after the war, but freezing temperatures in the winter made it difficult to work sometimes. His brother, who was an optician, suggested he go to college to learn to become one.
“I went into the school, I liked what I saw, and I persevered,” he said.
“He is incredibly passionate about his work and is highly regarded by our residents.”
— Fred Sganga
Polan went on to work for 30 years with Dr. Norman Stahl in Garden City, who was the founder of Stahl Eyecare Experts, one of the first ophthalmologist offices in New York to use LASIK surgery when it became available in America in the ’90s.
Andy Polan said his father is a big help to him not only assisting at Stony Brook Vision World and at the veterans home but also making house calls when he can’t.
“I’m honored to have that,” the son said. “I’m luckier than a lot of people that my father at this age is able to still be very vital and helpful.”
Father and son both said they feel residents are fortunate to have the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook nearby.
“My dad is proud of what he sees over at the vets’ hospital,” Andy Polan said, adding that while many other veterans homes receive negative publicity, Long Island State Veterans Home executive director, Fred Sganga, goes above and beyond to make sure his patients are taken care of properly.
The respect is mutual. Sganga said it’s clear Polan loves to work with his fellow veterans.
“He is incredibly passionate about his work and is highly regarded by our residents,” Sganga said. “Sheldon’s optometry skills combined with his caring personality make him a welcome addition to our home. We salute him for his ageless abilities and his passion to serve his fellow veterans.”
Sheldon Polan said visiting veterans, where even a simple greeting means a lot to them, is important.
“Once I saw what I was giving to them and what I was getting back, I was hooked,” the optician said. “You got to feel for these people.”