One won’t catch Mary Dork with cabin fever, no matter how long the winter lasts. Filling each hour with work, volunteering and physical activity makes her days just fly by.
Recently arriving back in Rhinelander from a trip to Colorado with her husband, Bill, after visiting their daughter and her family, Mary was right back to work as secretary of the Congregational Church. Not stopping to rest at home, she was back at church a few hours later to make dessert for a dinner the following evening.
The Wednesday Night Café dinner is something Mary came up with 20 years ago. “It started as a way to help out members of the church who came for choir rehearsals and Bible study, and didn’t have time to cook,” she explains. “It’s very popular and people still appreciate it. We try to be intergenerational, and it’s nice for people of all ages to come together to share a meal.”
That kind of thinking is behind most of Mary’s work: doing her best to help make life better for those around her.
The 20 hours a week that Mary logs as the church secretary are spent answering the phone, scheduling events, answering inquiries and putting together the weekly bulletin. “Anyone who knows about this job can tell you a church secretary is the ‘go-to’ person,” she says. “I deal with weddings and funerals, church events and luncheons, and outside groups like the Nicolet College Learning in Retirement program that uses our meeting rooms.”
Outside of her duties, Mary puts in many, many hours volunteering at the church. Besides the weekly café, she sings in the senior choir and directs the Rainbow Ringers youth hand bell choir.
She co-directs the annual church musical, an endeavor that has become a two-month-long nightly task. “That started years ago as a fund-raising idea,” she says. “I helped organized a mother/ daughter event with skits and songs, and it just grew.”
Last year’s musical, “The Wizard of Oz,” included a cast of more than 30 people, elaborate sets and, of course, a challenging musical score. A monumental task for Mary, the church is taking this year off for the first time in 14 years.
Mary has an extensive musical background, singing in choirs from an early age. Bill also sings in the choir at church, and daughter Alison, who was just 7 years old when the family moved to Rhinelander, is now a music teacher in Colorado with two children of her own.
Before moving to Rhinelander in 1989, Mary had played in and directed a hand bell choir in southern Ohio, where she and Bill lived. “I was happy to join the G.E.M. bell choir here,” she recalls. “At that time, there was a very active youth singing choir, and I realized we needed something for the kids who didn’t sing.
“We are called the Rainbow Ringers because I color-code the musical score to make it easier for beginners to play,” she explains. “We started with just youth, but when membership dropped a bit, we invited some mothers into the group. That has continued and been great for families. I try to keep the group fun.”
Mary has another part-time job at Grace Lodge, an assisted living facility in Rhinelander. “I do mostly clerical and office work,” she says, “but I also host regular ice-cream socials for families. They seem to love my home-made fudge sauce.”
She also brings Grace Lodge residents together for a weekly sing-a-long. “I take my keyboard along and we sing golden oldies,” she says. “I can’t play very well, but we all have fun. I love the residents and I like feeling that I’m making them happy. I try my best to be upbeat and positive.”
Almost every day Mary gets in some exercise, too. Her dog, Holly, loves a run in the woods any time of the year, so Mary and Bill are great hikers and skiers. “Cross country skiing is my favorite,” she says. “I try to get out on the trail four or five times a week. Last year I skied the Nose Lake Trail 29 times; that’s a favorite, because dogs are allowed on that trail.”
About a year ago, Mary discovered yoga, thanks to a class held at the church. “I have to say it’s changed my life,” she says. “I can’t tell you how much better I feel. I take two classes a week now, and I love it.”
Another longtime passion of Mary’s has recently re-entered her life. “My first love was horses,” she says. “When I left Ohio, I didn’t think I’d ever have a horse again, but it just kind of happened.”
It followed a conversation she just happened to overhear about horses. When she approached the speaker to ask more about her involvement, she found out about a novel idea: renting a horse.
“I met a woman who had two horses and only had time for one. She agreed to lease the other to me, a 27-year-old mare named Jeannie. I pay for her board and spend time with her at the farm where she lives.”
At first, Holly the dog came along, but was not happy. “I heard this strange noise,” Mary remembers. “I looked down and the dog was just trembling with fright. She was shaking so much, her teeth were chattering.
“I was concerned. I don’t have time to exercise them both separately,” she says. But over time, with patience and help from Bill, everyone is now happy to tramp the trails around the farm. “Jeannie’s back isn’t strong, so mostly I just lead her through the woods,” Mary explains. “We all love our time together. Sometimes, on level ground, I’ll ride. If I can’t find a stump to climb on, Bill helps me get up on her.”
Mary and Bill are also looking forward to their next trip. Last spring, they did a walking tour in Scotland and had a wonderful time. “We’ve been to England several times,” Mary says. “But this was just great. It was an independent tour; they give you a guide book and maps, and you walk 8 to 15 miles from village to village. Everybody walks there, through pastures and over stiles; it’s beautiful.”
If there is one bit of wisdom to be gleaned from a look at Mary’s life, it may be as simple as: stay busy, interact with other people and enjoy life. She certainly does.
Sue Schneider is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods Commerce and Living on the Lake magazines.