FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – WANE 15 is once again proud to share local stories of Remarkable Women for 2021. We asked you, and you nominated women the make a difference in our community.
The first of four finalists we’ll introduce you to is Mary Riecke.
Mary retired shortly before the pandemic last year. Her dreams of traveling came to a halt, but Mary carried on in one of the ways she know how to: helping others.
Mary pulled out the sewing machine. In the past year she’s sewn and donated over 1,400 masks.
“I’ve sent masks all over the United States and I give them to a whole bunch of not-for-profits here, or anybody that needs them. Yeah, whatever you want, you can have them,” said Mary.
Before mask making, social distancing and a pandemic, Mary’s volunteer journey started because her daughter received a cancer diagnosis at age two. Nonprofit camp for kids with cancer, Camp Whatcha-Wanna-Do, tapped Mary to be a board member and volunteer.
“It’s kind of use what your heart leads you to do,” described Mary on why she started volunteering with the organization.
Mary then helped start a similar camp for adults with cancer, Camp Jenee.
“We’d have anywhere up to 50 people at the YMCA Camp Potawotami. And they would spend a weekend doing things for themselves. A change comes over people when they’re in nature. I fully believe that from my old girl scouting days. It just brings them to themselves, and it gives them a sense of healing. Healing that occurs there you can’t get with a pill.”
As a retired pharmacist, Mary isn’t a stranger to the medical side of life. It’s what propelled her to help her son and daughter-in-law with their newborn all the way down in Indianapolis. Baby Mila struggled with eating.
Mary said she would take care of Mila late at night or early in the morning so her parents could sleep.
Mila is one of five grandchildren Mary and her husband Tom share. Family is one of Mary’s driving forces, along with her rescue dog Barney. Which of course, she found volunteering at the ASPCA.
Along her journey, Mary also met Terry Mihlbauer. They have been friends for decades.
“When I’ve needed someone she’s been there,” said Terry of Mary.
Mary helped take care of Terry when she went through a hip replacement. She said Mary would come over, make sure she’s okay and make sure she took her medication.
“She even threw a birthday party for me a few days later when I was still not doing very well, and still in recovery,” said Terry.
It’s that selflessness that led Terry and their friend Anna to nominate Mary as a Remarkable Women.
“I think her willingness to help and listen, and just be there is part of why I think she’s so remarkable,” said Terry.
If there is one word that can describe Mary other than remarkable, it would be humble.
“Remarkable? There’s a lot of remarkable people. I mean we have a wonderful town. I mean there’s so many people doing so many things. I would like to do more, we’re just going to have to see,” said Mary.
Mary said she hopes to get back to Summit Equestrian Center to volunteer, and use her medical background to help in any way she can.