Helping others, keeping busy motivate octogenarian volunteers

wilson, okla. | The wheels of the Wilson Senior Citizens Center bus roll along city streets on its way to deliver hot meals to 18 of its hungry citizens.

Sitting up front, 84-year-old Mary Francis happily chats with the driver as they head to their next destination.

In the back of the bus, Maudine Herrell, also 84, fills a bag with that day’s meal, carries it to the front of the bus and puts it in line with other filled bags. Keeping the cards and sacks in sequence helps the driver keep track of where to go next.

As Herrell works, the driver pulls up in front of a house on the route and honks the horn, indicating to the resident that hot food and good company is on its way.

Now it’s Francis’ turn. Picking up the next bag in the line, she delivers it to the front door, taking a few minutes to make sure the recipient is in good health and everything’s going well.

Then it’s back on the bus and off they go again.

Such is the twice-monthly routine of two ladies who have spent their retirement years volunteering in everything from museum and historical society work to helping out at the local library and churches. It’s a labor of love to these two individuals who have a hard time seeing what the fuss is all about.

“I’m not any more special than you are,’ Francis told the driver of the bus that day as they followed their familiar route delivering meals.

Herrell and Francis have been volunteering in the meal program for several years, Francis since its inception in the 1980s and Herrell since 1993.

(In the Bay Area Jewish community, a number of volunteers, many of them seniors, have taken on similar projects. They pack seder sacks or holiday parcels with Jewish Family and Children’s Services and other organizations or serve and deliver kosher meals. Others visit seniors at home.)

On the delivery route, it’s Herrell’s job to put the meals together for Francis to deliver.

Francis, up front waiting for her turn, said her husband helped deliver meals with her when he was still alive. She said her reason for helping out came from some other vibrant retirees who infused motivation into their program participants.

“I started doing it because it was a necessity,’ she said. “Some of the leaders we had were really good and were always finding stuff for us to do.’

And the two women do plenty.

Herrell also volunteers at the museum and the library and is active in the Retired Senior Volunteers Program. “I feel good staying busy,’ she said.

The two women attend various activities together.

“Our husbands were in the hospital at the same time and died about the same time. We’ve just lived kind of parallel lives.’