Mary Marion is more than a people person. She is a serving-people person. Her entire adult life has been spent caring for others – from the eight sons she raised to the neighbors she helps feed to the fellow seniors she impacts twice a week, every week at The Salvation Army’s Dora Bingel Senior Center.
The sprightly 77-year-old has been volunteering as the ceramics class instructor for so long, she has lost track.
“A lot of people say, ‘I can’t paint. I can’t do that.’ I say, ‘Sure you can.’”
Activity coordinator Cindy Schlegelmilch says people flock to the center’s ceramics room on Wednesdays and Fridays because of Mary’s encouraging words and “smile that won’t quit.”
“They want to be around this positive, happy person,” Schlegelmilch says. “Mary’s so welcoming and she really knows what she’s teaching. Even if you don’t know what to do, she’ll help you learn.”
An Omaha resident most of her life, Mary began visiting the Bingel Center decades ago when she would bring her mother, who was also a ceramics painting enthusiast and instructor. After her mother died, Mary continued to volunteer. It was a way to get out of the house and meet people.
“They always think I work miracles with these ceramics because when they mess them up, I get to fix them,” she says with a laugh.
The center, which benefits from Salvation Army general funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, draws residents from the adjacent Charles and Margre Durham Booth Manor and seniors from the surrounding community.
In addition to ceramics, it hosts potluck meals, card and board games, and seasonal activities. Mary loves to cook and brings lunch for the crowd on occasion. Her enchiladas were a huge hit recently. Her sister, Victoria Evans, says that’s just Mary.
“She is busy,” Evans says. “She’ll get up early in the morning and go get food to spread up and down the block to make sure all the other seniors who can’t get out get some, too.”
While she exudes joy, Mary’s life has not been without heartache. She lost a granddaughter, 27-year-old Darnesha Mitchell, to a shooting in January.
“I miss her terribly,” Mary says.
Helping at the center helps her cope. That’s what this place is for a lot of people – an oasis that specializes in laughter and fellowship.
“We can leave our troubles at the door, come in here and laugh,” Schlegelmilch says.
Mary says she knows how truly precious life is and at 77, she is living it – shopping, traveling, serving others. She says everyone can make a difference in their own way.
“Just get out there and do it. Just volunteer and do something. Any little thing will help.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same.