RED WING — Every Friday, they can count on Marian Fitschen at the American Legion in Red Wing.
Fitschen, who turns 95 later this year, volunteers each week at the fish fry, setting up tables and getting condiments ready. Then, after a short break, she comes back to make hamburgers, baked potatoes and broasted chicken.
"It’s good to keep moving, that’s for sure," Fitschen said. "After my husband died, I’d have been climbing the walls if I didn’t have something to do. You can’t watch TV all the time."
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Fitschen is one of two senior volunteers of the year in Goodhue County. She and Ray McNamara, an 82-year-old former dairy farmer who lives in the city of Goodhue, represented the county at the State Fair.
They also are part of an aging breed of volunteers.
"She is the main one," Renae Quade, manager at the American Legion in Red Wing said about Fitschen. "We used to have more volunteers, but little by little they’ve dwindled down. They've gotten older, some passed away. Some have just slowed down."
The Legion, she said, can always use more volunteers.
While Fitschen said she began volunteering at the Legion 40 years ago — "A gal I worked with at the (Red Wing) Shoe factory said they needed help with the fish fries," — McNamara came to volunteering through the work ethic taught by his parents.
"For me, it’s the word 'payback'" McNamara said. "It’s payback for what your father or grandfather did for you. The number of years I’ve been volunteering, it’s kind of inherited."
McNamara has served as the construction manager on 14 Habitat for Humanity homes in Goodhue County over the years, and he's worked on several others. He also delivers Meals on Wheels, helps with Red Cross blood drives, the Lions Club fundraiser barbecue and more.
Working for Habitat for Humanity, he said, he's seen the work it takes finding volunteers and getting them to do work that, sometimes, they're not exactly experts in.
He recalled a time a father brought two sons to work at a home site. Initially, the father and the sons, none of whom had any construction experience, just stood by wondering how they might help. By the end of the day, however, "those two kids, they worked their butts off. They were so excited about what they were doing."
That, he said, is what makes Habitat for Humanity such a great volunteer organization. "There’s always something you can do," McNamara said. "Even if it’s just holding one end of a piece of siding."
But, McNamara said, he's also noticed how communities can end up leaning on the same volunteers for multiple projects.
"It’s the same people," he said. "When they ask you to do something, they know you have the experience of volunteering."
On home construction sites, he's had days where 20 volunteers show up, and days where one volunteer shows up. "I’ve learned to be satisfied with what I have," he said.
Like McNamara, Fitschen gives her time and talent to multiple organizations. Fridays are the Legion. Wednesdays, she volunteers at the senior center two or three times a month. She also volunteers at the hospital in Red Wing on Mondays and Thursdays.
"I work in the gift shop and the courier," she said. "That's the cart where you pick up and deliver mail."
Quade said she marvels at her elder volunteer's energy, adding that she can always count on Fitschen when she needs a helping hand.
"She’s not slowing down at all," Quade said. "If I could get half of my employees to have her work ethic, my job would be so easy."