Phyllis Mealey didn't start volunteering intending to put in over 4,500 hours of service. To the Two Harbors resident, volunteering felt like a natural use of her time.
"Well, what else would I do?" Mealey said. "I mean, my husband is deceased, my children all live far enough away so I don't get called on to do babysitting. I don't have to worry about fixing dinner for anybody. So you do what you can to keep yourself busy."
Mealey was recently recognized by the Two Harbors American Legion Auxiliary and was awarded the Presidential Lifetime Achievement award for putting in over 4,500 hours of volunteer work in the community since RSVP began keeping records for her in 2001.
However, her volunteerism started years earlier as she joined the American Legion Auxiliary in 1962; has served with the Lake County Tax Aid Assistance program for 35 years; and volunteered with the Salvation Army and her church for many years.
Mealey credits her late husband, Bill, as part of her inspiration to volunteer.
"He was always a good volunteer and I would go along with him," Mealey said. "He was in the honor guard and very involved with the transportation fund, driving vets to the VA hospital. I did a lot of that with him."
That's how she became connected with the Auxiliary, where she's served as treasurer, president, district president and more. She also represents the Legion at the Minnesota Vets Home in Silver Bay, where she and other volunteers purchase things for an annual Christmas free gift shop for the vets, spend time visiting with veterans and organize games.
Mealey also has a passion for math and has used her skills for 35 years as a volunteer tax aide. When she began volunteering, she did everything with calculators and pencils. Now she says she can put numbers into the computer "and things just flow right along."
"It's been an adjustment, but I do still enjoy it," Mealey said. "Math was one of my favorite things. That's a good use of my knowledge and abilities."
How does Mealey feel about the recognition for her work?
"It certainly makes you feel good, knowing that there's someone who appreciates what you're doing," Mealey said. "I don't feel like I should be getting anything special because there's an awful lot of volunteers out there who do so much, but still we like to be honored or thanked when we do something."
Any encouragement for others looking to start volunteering?
"I suggest you find something that makes you feel good. There are a lot of ways to help the community," Mealey said. "Some people write letters; some people cook and help with meals; I do taxes. There's a lot of ways a person can do something."