This active volunteer doesn’t stay home much

Marlene Barr     

By Marjorie Kauth-Karjala

Every morning, Marlene Barr and her husband walk a neighbor’s dogs 2 ½ miles.  “It’s better than having a dog of your own.  You don’t have to clean up after them and you don’t have to stay home with them,” Barr said.

Barr, 77, doesn’t stay home much. She bikes and skis and travels the world.  She’s an active member of numerous organizations including the Ypsilanti Community Choir and the Ladies’ Literary Club in Ypsilanti.

Despite being very busy, Barr is also an RSVP volunteer at the Ypsilanti Thrift Shop.  “It contributes so much to the needy,” is the reason she has volunteered with the Shop since 1969.  Most of the Shop’s profits go directly to human service organizations in Ypsilanti such as Hope Clinic, Friends in Deed, Meals on Wheels and S.O.S.

Because the Shop is operated by volunteers, about 65 percent of profits go directly to social services, said Marcia Sylvester, Shop president. Barr, who has served as president of the Shop three times and is now in charge of scheduling volunteers, said “Nobody gets paid and the building is all paid for.”

The Shop has been in operation for 70 years, running solely on volunteer efforts.  “We always need more volunteers,” Barr said.  One attractive thing about volunteering is that the Shop only asks for a volunteer to commit to one shift at the Shop every four weeks.  The shifts are about three hours long.  The Thrift Shop is at 14 S. Washington St. in downtown Ypsilanti.

In addition to her work at the Shop, Barr and her husband John are active in Boy Scout Troop 290, which is based at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Ypsilanti.  She and her husband have taken Boy Scouts to Colorado for an Easter ski vacation numerous times.

Marlene Barr has won gold medals in her age category through NASTAR, a ski racing organization.  “My husband says I’m a fast woman,” Marlene said.

John and Marlene also like to bike on Saturday mornings with the Ann Arbor Bike Touring Society.  They ride along Huron River Drive from Ann Arbor to Dexter and have breakfast in Dexter.

Another activity that Marlene Barr enjoys is genealogy.  She’s a member of five genealogy organizations and has written several booklets about her family history.  She distributes the booklets to family members and to various libraries.  Her heritage is Swedish, Norwegian and German and her maiden name is Bielenberg.

“After doing some research in Norway at the archives, I connected with a cousin in Oslo.  He’s the same age as I am,” Barr said.  On one visit to Oslo, the cousin and Marlene Barr visited “a huge brick church that our great-grandfather built,” she said.  The sanctuary is known as Trefoldighet and was built in 1853.

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“I say I’m going to retire…”

By Marjorie Kauth-Karjala

“I say I’m going to retire, then the next thing I know I’m going back over to the center working,” says Evelyn Payne, a volunteer at Northside Community Center’s emergency food program for over 30 years.

Payne, 87, volunteered with the food bank program when it was run by Food Gatherers.  The program is now run by Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County and Payne serves the center as an RSVP volunteer.  She started volunteering at the center when she retired from Mercywood Hospital, a former mental hospital in Ann Arbor. In addition to Payne’s volunteer work, she has also recruited several of her children to help out at Northside.

She and her husband had eight children but working full-time was no problem, she says. “My husband worked nights and I worked days. It wasn’t bad at all and I enjoyed it.

I loved every bit of it for 25 years. I loved my teenagers (at the hospital) as well as adults,” Payne says.

Some people like to sit when they retire but Payne likes to stay busy.  In addition to working at the food bank, she volunteers in numerous ways at her church, Bethel A.M.E.

Besides volunteering, she said she likes bingo, music, puzzles and reading.  “When I get tired of working on a puzzle I come back up and catch up on my reading,” Payne says.

At the food bank, Payne manages the area where people come in and select their food.  Allowing people to select their own food means that people get what they like to eat so there is less waste. But Payne monitors how much each person takes, carefully following the rules.

“Everybody gets the same (amount.) I tell (the consumers) to think about the next person behind you. You try to stretch it as far as you can,” Payne says.

“She helps keep it managed so there’s enough for lots of families,” says Stephanie Fialkowski, who works in housing support for Catholic Social Services.

“She can be a pistol. She’s assertive in a way that’s loving and strong-willed at the same time,” says Kimberly Green, the food program coordinator for Northside.  Green said she’s worked with Payne for about 12 years. The food program serves about 150 people a week.  In addition to food people can get help in finding resources for other things such as utility assistance and rental help, Green says.

Of Payne, Fialkowski says, “She’s funny and feisty, I just love her to death.”

The emergency food program is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.  For more information, call 734-662-4462.

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A Real Treasure

Milan has a real treasure in their senior citizen activity center which is located in the heart of their downtown area.  Milan Seniors for Health Living is a nonprofit organization with a great heart and passion for enhancing the quality of life and encouraging aging with independence and dignity for the “mature” residents that live in and around Milan. They operate out of the Milan Senior and Community Activity Center which is located near Milan’s library and police station.

MSHL has a diverse array of activities, programs, and services that are offered Monday’s through Thursdays. From exercise classes, crafting, cards & games, meals, a computer lab, trips, massage therapy, manicure services, diabetic support groups, a “Red Hat” chapter, educational speakers, language classes, and more; you are sure to find something there that appeals to you.

Do you know about the transportation services they run?   Aged 50+ and living in the 48160 zip code, you can be picked up Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 9 to 2—just give them 24 hours notice.  Come see what special events are coming up! The center celebrated its second anniversary as a non-profit in July 2012.

But the best thing about the center is that it is filled with the kind of people you want to get to know—let me introduce you to one of their key volunteers.

Hermione Fauser loves what she does—and it really shows in her smile as she describes setting up the kitchen every morning and working with the lunch program at the Milan Community Center. “Hermione is the first one there in the morning and the last to leave,” says her co-worker Laura Russeau.  Hermione loves working with the people she meets at the center—both her coworkers and the folks who come to the center.

Hermione was born 97 years ago in Ypsilanti where she went to Woodruff Elementary School.  She has seen a lot of changes. There is an interesting story online about the Woodruff’s in Ypsilanti history the Ann Arbor District Library website:

Hermione and her husband, LaVerne moved to Milan in relatively modern times, 1955.  Hermione says she feels that Milan is still the small town that they found then.  Hermione retired from working on the male ward of the state hospital 40 years ago when the community center was just opening.  She and her husband, Verne wanted to keep busy in retirement.  They felt lucky to find such a great volunteer opportunity close to home.  Although Verne has now passed away, Hermione continues to volunteer at the center.  She says she would recommend volunteering to anyone because it gets you out of the house and keeps you active.  Hermione says that in addition to walking outside everyday, she gets plenty of exercise setting the tables, lifting trays, and serving food at the center. MSHL director Jennifer Michalak added “Hermie is an amazing individual that offers inspiration to all of us.  You should ask her to quote some poetry.  She is a treasure trove of memorized poems for every occasion..

What is the best thing about the center?  Hermione says she is proud of everything about it—the beautiful building and all the activities, but the best thing is the people:  “All of us have lost a spouse or child and there is so much support here.  We are all there for each other.”

Hermione’s favorite thing to do is to spend time with her family, and she is an avid knitter.  In fact, Hermione knits and donates an afghan every year for the senior center to raffle off and it is always a “hot ticket” item.  Hermione is also active in the Lutheran church which is an important part of her life.

As we finished the interview, I walked Hermione back to the kitchen where her co-worker, Ed greeted her with this banter:  “Perfect timing!  You show up when we are all done with the work!”  Hermione suggested I interview Ed, too, but Ed modestly declined the offer, saying he’d rather we gave Hermione all the attention:  “She’s been here way longer than any of us!”  he said.  Ed looked like he was, like Hermione, another one of the kind of people you’d like to get to know—looks like I will definitely need to make another visit to Milan soon!

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