Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 2, 2012

Kathy Gibbons: Little woman, big light


---- — Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work for a few months at the Father Fred Foundation in Traverse City.

Of course, when you spend time at a place that does the kind of charitable work that the foundation does, you come away with some indelible memories: the people waiting for help with a car repair, utility bill or dental problem who had jobs, but earned barely enough; the neatly groomed elderly couple who looked like they could be anybody's grandparents, in need of food; the woman who'd been laid off from her job as a secretary, explaining as her 11-year-old daughter sat quietly by her side that she needed help with rent and never imagined herself having to ask for help; the little kids playing and reading while their parents waited for used mattresses and bedding; and the tapestry of volunteers who show up week after week to make it all happen.

So many stood out. But I was reminded of the gentleness of one when I saw her obituary recently.

Margaret Tare died in November, just two months shy of her 97th birthday. What struck me when I met her was that she was a white-haired wisp of a woman who rode the bus from Empire, every week, all year long, to volunteer. She rose early to catch the bus and make the trip to town, where she'd transfer and take another bus to the Foundation on Hastings Street. Then she'd ride back to Empire with her daughter, with whom she'd lived for 24 years.

In fact, it was because she lived with daughter Kathy Wiejaczka and her husband Ken that Margaret began volunteering. Margaret was widowed in 1975 and lived on her own until 1988.

As she told a TV news crew interviewing her after she won a Senior Citizen of the Year award at age 92, she started volunteering at 76 because Kathy didn't want her doing chores around the house. Kathy suggested she start volunteering instead, and so she did — not just at Father Fred, but for the Glen Lake Schools, her church, the American Red Cross and others.

She drove herself to Traverse City until her eyesight deteriorated and she couldn't drive anymore. After that, she took the bus and kept volunteering until last year, when Alzheimer's prompted her move to Bortz Health Care in Traverse City.

Seeing her obituary, I flashed back to her sweetness. Her daughter and the people at Bortz told me that's how everybody remembers her. So did John Ufer, the BATA driver who brought her to town most weeks.

After she won the senior citizens award, she was feted with a tribute at the Foundation in which her volunteer leader wrote, "She has caused a ripple effect with her kindness, and lit a flame in our hearts with her devotion "¦ a light that will not soon go out."

And to those who knew and loved her, that's still true.

Kathy Gibbons can be reached at