Photos by Jeannie Frey Rhodes
Five hometown heroes forge a better future by giving themselves to the present
Ruthie Kean loves her volunteer role so much that she once broke into a building to perform it.
It was a painfully early hour on the first day of her duties at the Inner Wheel Attic Trash and Treasure Sale, and the doors to the borrowed mall space had not been opened as expected. That didn’t stop Kean. “I got one of my workers to take the bolts off of a door,” she says. “All the alarms went off, and the police arrived soon afterward. But I was determined to get in there and get ready.”
Kean may have taken her zeal for the cause further than some would have, but that’s why her organization has relied on her to help run the lucrative charity fundraiser for more than two decades. They know Kean will get the job done—no matter what.
The women spotlighted on the following pages with Kean have also refused to let seemingly impassable obstacles stand in their way. Kelli Stevens dreamed of a new children’s museum, while Brenda Perry Dunn longed for a place to honor Louisiana’s African-American history. Lydie Neumann sought to heighten awareness of epilepsy. Mary Lee Eggart traced history in an effort to sleuth out the stories behind her church’s colorfully painted walls. Each of them had a humble start and toiled for years without pay to see her efforts rewarded.
What has kept all of them going, besides an intense determination to achieve success? The simple answer is joy. A pure delight in pursuing their chosen initiatives. A joy that, it seems, can break down doors.
“What I’m doing is so enjoyable that I almost feel guilty sometimes, like I’m doing this for my own pleasure,” says Eggart. “That’s the secret—you have to approach it as something enjoyable, and you’ll get more out of it than you put in.”
To learn more about these inspiring women, click below: