“A good model for life is to leave everything a little better than when it was found. Nothing flashy, just a little better.” This statement was one of the endorsements for Mary Anderson Walker’s nomination for the Governor’s Service Award she received earlier this year. Her life demonstrates her philosophy.
Since returning to Michigan in 1992, Walker has served with Hospice as a patient volunteer, board member and in-service coordinator, and helped provide training for new patient volunteers. “Becoming part of a hospice patient’s last journey is a moving experience. The dying process can be bluntly physical or beautifully spiritual...usually it is a combination of both,” says the always compassionate Walker.
Classmate Therese Bluhm says she learned of Walker’s charitable activities only when asked “...for a contribution for a blackboard in Guatemala, a tree at Marygrove, cash for the Grass River Natural Area, a gift for a sister at the motherhouse, help in planting gardening areas around civic buildings in Kalkaska, or by listening to her adventures in picking up trash along the highways and byways in Michigan and North Carolina.”
According to Walker, her parents stressed the importance of helping others and that childhood activities and Girl Scouts reinforced the importance and “joy of service.” Marygrove built on those early experiences. “Marygrove offered an outstanding liberal arts education including a groundbreaking undergrad social work program with field work placement. This sequence provided a strong foundation for my professional career. Marygrove emphasized the service ethic with meaningful opportunities to practice it. And at Marygrove, I built lifelong and treasured friendships with a wonderful group of women.” She cites the influence of Christina Schwartz, IHM, “a pioneer in the development of social work services in Detroit. She had a gift for inspiring her students while expecting the best from each of them.”
Close to home, Walker, a master gardener, takes care of the flowers and plants inside and surrounding St. Anthony of Padua Church and works with others to fill and deliver food baskets to needy families in the Mancelona and Kalkaska area.
For Marygrove, she has recently assisted in rewriting the Alumni Association by-laws and has volunteered to lead alumni trips to Honduras where she has helped paint a dining hall, taught children and assisted a medical team.
Walker is vice-chair of the Antrim County Abuse and Neglect Council and liaison to the Baby Pantry. Her parish donated space for the food pantry, which supplies not only baby food but diapers, blankets, cribs, car seats and gently used clothing. Last year, 197 needy families with children under age five were helped. Currently, Walker compiles statistics on the Baby Pantry for the Children’s Trust Fund, the Michigan Food Coalition and FEMA, as well as orders food and diapers and stocks shelves. As a member of the Council, Walker is also working with one school district to send children to day and overnight camp who otherwise could not afford it.
In nine years on the volunteer board of the Grass River Natural Area, 1100 acres of protected land owned by Antrim County, Walker has served as president, education chair, in other offices and task groups. She worked with members to develop a curriculum for “Nature Nuts” and “Nature Explorers,” a five-week exploration for 188 children ages 4 to12 in 2004. With the help of school personnel and based on state science benchmarks, the organization developed a wetlands environmental education fall and spring curriculum. Last year, 268 third and fourth graders participated.
Never still but seeming to work without effort, Walker has painted interiors for Habitat for Humanity and exhibits for the Children’s Museum of Traverse City as part of a Day of Caring program.
Both Mary and her husband Dick enjoy Elderhostel Service Trips - chances to see something new and help others at the same time. On one trip, she tutored Navaho students at Medicine Hat, Utah, and on another, she painted the interior of a building destined to be an environmental education center in a national wildlife refuge.
She has been a trail builder with the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy, breaking boulders in Northern California to make stepping stones and stairs along trails.
She is very proud of her own three children and advises them and others to “try to integrate your experiences and skills and use them to help others whenever the opportunity presents itself. Your life will be enriched. Be aware that change happens in very small increments.”
Her friends talk about her loyalty to them, her willingness to drop everything to be there for them and help wherever it is needed. They agree, Mary Anderson Walker is nothing flashy but more than a little bit better.