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At 93, Stafford library volunteer is too busy to feel old
By CATHY DYSON / THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Mary Belle Holder is so determined to get to her volunteer work that sometimes her family has to take away her car keys.
The attitude is understandable. No one wants a 93-year-old on the road when the weather is iffy.
But if people didn’t know Holder’s age—or see it on her driver’s license, which is good through 2017—they’d never guess she was born a year after World War I ended.
Holder is as spry as her disposition is sunny. Those who work with her at the Porter branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library say she’s a hard worker who inspires them all.
“She definitely is a poster child for what staying busy will do for you, both mentally and physically,” said Candace Rhyne Schmidt, circulation manager of the North Stafford library. “She’s a sweetie-pie.”
Schmidt nominated Holder for the Salute to Senior Service Contest, sponsored by Home Instead Inc. Voting has ended, and Holder and her supporters—along with other Fredericksburg-area residents nominated online for the award—will learn who won on June 9.
State winners get a $500 donation to the charity of their choice. The national winner gets a donation worth 10 times that much.
Holder started volunteering 17 years ago, soon after she moved back to Stafford County. She had raised her family in Alexandria and worked as an accountant for the government in Washington until 1970. After retirement, she and her husband, William, settled in Florida.
When he died in 1995, her sons, Keith and Dennis, persuaded her to come back home. She moved in with Keith and his wife, Connie, and discovered she needed more to do.
“Just sitting around, looking at four walls, wasn’t enough,” she said.
She got a library card because she’d always been an avid reader. Early on, she favored fairy tales, then Nancy Drew, then “anything with a little action in it.” These days, author James Patterson tops her list.
When Porter’s gift shop opened, she asked if there was anything she could do to help. She volunteered there until she began to sift through the many books that are donated to Porter—then sold during the library’s popular monthly sales.
Holder spends her four-hour shift, two days a week, in a back room, looking through hardcovers, paperbacks and magazines.
She’s usually surrounded by boxes, stacked from floor to ceiling. Co-workers keep an eye on her “because she has been known to climb too high to get to the box on top,” according to her nomination form.
“She’s extremely agile, but we do not let her get up on step stools anymore,” library director Martha Hutzel said.
As Holder sets about sorting, the first thing she does is fan through each, “just to make sure you don’t have any goodies in there.” She’s found plenty over the years: marriage certificates and money, photos of children and a nursing certificate that had just been renewed.
She got lucky with the last one. Just as she took it to the front to tell clerks what she found, its owner appeared at the checkout desk and got her nursing certificate back.
On sale day, the first Friday of the month, customers line up outside the library door. Books are purchased by home-school parents and college students, those sending books to the troops and those helping to start libraries overseas, Schmidt said.
Funds from the sale are used to purchase materials and furnishings for the library and help the summer reading program.
“It is a win–win for everyone and it all starts with Mary Belle,” Schmidt said in the nomination.
Holder also helped set up the library at Stafford’s Head Start with some of the books donated from Porter. For the past two years, she worked three days a week at the preschool program to organize, label and code thousands of books.
Her co-workers aren’t surprised by what the 93-year-old has done.
“She’s gotta be the hardest-working volunteer we have,” said Phyllis Russillo, a library clerk. “We all want to be like Mary Belle when we grow up.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Saluting seniors for helping needy, elderly
Other area residents nominated for the Salute to Senior Service include:
Ida Ansell has volunteered at the information desk at Stafford County Courthouse for 22 years and works four to 12 hours a week. She steps in when another volunteer can’t make it, and she leads tours of county departments for school groups.
She was on the county’s recycling board; volunteered with S.E.R.V.E., an organization that provides emergency assistance to the needy; and worked at the Salute to Stafford festival for many years. She also plays a charming Mrs. Santa Claus.
“Ida is always cheerful, humble and willing to help when asked or needed,” according to her nomination form. “Her quiet, gentle manner inspires all who know her.”
The Friends of the Culpeper County Library nominated Celine Siira, who volunteers more than 40 hours a month. She’s worked in the bookstore since 2000 and has developed a keen interest in older books that bring higher prices at sales.
She enlisted the help of a professional appraiser, listed the books on Amazon and had bookshelves built in her garage to keep the items until they needed to be shipped.
She also came up with other themes, such as bag sales, paperback sales and Christmas books.
“She has said more than once that she finally has a career of her own,” said Susan Keller, library director. “And I have said more than once, we don’t know what we would do without her.”
Morrie Mabbitt of Fredericksburg heads the social ministry committee of Christ Lutheran Church in Fredericksburg.
He purchases the food and directs the cooking and serving of a monthly meal that feeds up to 125 needy residents. He also coordinates the facility’s use with four other organizations and shops for the church’s food pantry.
Mabbitt searched the Internet for hours for the lowest-priced quality boots for those who need the footwear for work. He dealt with Micah Ecumenical Ministries on the boot project and provides food and clothing for women at Empowerhouse, the area’s domestic violence agency.
Diane Trice of Fredericksburg has volunteered with the Senior Visitors Program through Mental Health America of Fredericksburg since December 2004. She visited regularly with an Alzheimer’s patient, providing companionship to her and respite to her spouse. She helped with bathing, grooming and feeding on days she visited. She also ran errands and accompanied the client to appointments.
Trice continued to visit the family after the patient died in 2010, and the widower has become a client in the program.
“Diane goes beyond what is expected of her as a volunteer,” according to her nomination. “She is providing a much-needed connection to the community and valuable services and support.”
In 2012, Barbara Rhodes helped start “The Place” at Reformation Lutheran Church in Culpeper. It’s a five-day-a-week drop-in center for adults 50 and over.
Individuals come to “The Place” for socialization, recreation and support. Through the endeavor, which is totally supported by volunteers, Rhodes has helped feed people, locate housing and support lonely and struggling adults.
“Some of the seniors have said that Barbara has literally saved their lives,” according to her nomination. She “has made a huge difference in the lives of mature adults in Culpeper.”