Volunteering is a fairly new term, says Mary McGhee, thought up in the last few decades.
“We didn’t know we were ‘volunteering’ before. We didn’t call it volunteering,” she says. “You just went and did what was needed.”
She began helping out when she was just a young child, copying the behaviour of her parents and the other adults in her life – who all pitched in, too.
She can remember picking up cups and saucers after community dances in Ryder Lake, where she was raised before moving to Harrison Mills.
It was always a tight-knit community, that pulled together when called upon, she said.
When a barn had to be raised, well, the entire community pitched in. The men would take on the building tasks, and the women would cook up hearty meals to keep them full – and working.
“If you lived on a farm, this was the stuff you did,” she said.
Volunteering – a term she isn’t fond of – wasn’t something to be noted for. It was simply a way of life.
“It isn’t something I see as a chore,” she said.
And it’s exactly that spirit that has earned McGhee a B.C. Community Achievement Award. She attended a grand ceremony in Victoria in late April, and received her award from Steven Point, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
McGhee’s name was put forward by then-Mayor Lorne Fisher and Kerry Hilts, director of community services for Kent, a couple of years ago. They visited her home and interviewed her, and submitted her name to the Province. McGhee’s name wasn’t pulled last year, but it certainly was this year.
While McGhee has never stopped volunteering; even while recovering from surgery recently, she would visit the Harrison Mills Community Hall and grab the dish towels to throw in with her own laundry.
Helping out gives people a sense of pride in their community, she said. McGhee is still a member of the Ryder’s Lake Women’s Institute, one of three remaining WI’s in the Fraser Valley.
Women’s Institutes had their start when a group of women began knitting socks during the First World War. They started the first Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, and still support B.C. Children’s today.
And McGhee hasn’t done all this work single-handedly. Her husband Slim has supported her efforts throughout the years, and he’s no slouch himself when it comes to lending a hand.
“He does things very quietly,” she confides. “Behind the scenes.”
He has been her driver through the years, taking her around to sell tickets for events, delivering items to the community hall, or whatever needed doing.
He’s even the family’s laundry operator, and does the washing for the hall.
“People sometimes don’t think of the little things,” she said. “You just go do it. You don’t even realize you’re doing it.”
And doing, and doing, and doing.
Some may recognize McGhee from her volunteer position at Kilby Historic Site, a part of her life that was recognized at the awards in April. Again, she helps out because the need is there.
“Right now I’m busy making aprons for the waitresses to wear at Kilby,” she said.
Why? Because someone has to.
“From ensuring that every child learns to swim in her riverside community to supporting the Community Club, the Harrison Mills Recreation Commission, the annual quilt show and the Kilby Historic Store and Farm, Mary’s strong commitment has enabled Harrison Mills to prosper. She continues to serve today as a director of the Fraser Heritage Historical Society. Mary McGhee is a treasure.” – Provincial Government statement