Though her formal name was Margaret Helvenston, most people knew her simply as “Maggie.” She was a native of Bloomington, Ill., but moved with her young son to Xenia in order to live with her mother and step father, Dr. and Mrs. Reed Madden in their home at the corner of Church and North King streets.
She was well-known as an active volunteer who set out to accomplish something and did. She was employed for a time at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and delighted in telling that she traveled to Russia in 1954 with the first group or tourists allowed to visit that country. She spent three months overseas, including 12 days in Russia.
Maggie loved to travel. In addition to her classes at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. and the University of Illinois, she enjoyed summer classes in Cambridge, England for art history studies. One of her proudest moments came after she lobbied successfully for a US postage stamp recognizing cancer and its victims.
Probably the best reason to know Maggie is the fact that she founded the United Voluntary Service program in Xenia.
It all began during World War II when young men and women serving in the Armed Forces were stationed in the area, or home on furlough. She thought they needed a nice place where they could get a cup of coffee or soft drink, a piece of cake or chat with friends. She hoped they would be able to forget the war if only for a few hours.
And so the Service Club was organized with Maggie as a driving force, many volunteers stepped forward to help. The activities were held in the YMCA building on Greene Street where Maggie boasted that “men would walk or thumb to get over here.”
When city officials were unsure about using the Y for such a purpose, Maggie responded that the Y was for young people of the area, and “they were in uniform during World War II.” She got her way.
She was ready to assist women whose husbands were stationed nearby, finding housing so they could be closer their husbands. She often found ways to assist those individuals who did not qualify for help from other agencies.
Maggie was quoted as saying, “If a need developed, a program was found to solve it. We have no systems or constraints and absolutely no red tape.”
She organized “Dinner’s Ready,” – a program which provided evening meals for individuals in need. Various churches delivered meals one night a week to individual homes. When World War II was over, Maggie found herself with a large group of trained volunteers, but no place to use them, since the Service Club was closed.
She organized the Greene County Unit of the American Cancer Society. The United Voluntary Services came next. The Kennedy family donated land at Kennedy Korners, located at West Second and Orange streets. UVS as it was better known built a structure which would contain many donated items of clothing and household linens. During a board meeting held on April 3, 1974 a tornado destroyed all of Kennedy Korners. However with a settlement from insurance company allowed the group to construct a new building at the corner of Bellbrook Ave. and California Streets.
Volunteers worked regular hours each week, sorting and arranging the clothing items which had been donated. Anyone in need could come in to get clothing as needed at no charge. There were no restrictions on who could come into the store to get clothes, only a willingness to appreciate that which was freely given. Residents dropped off their clothing and other useful items with a cheerful heart, knowing they were helping someone who needed a little assistance
UVS and Mrs. Helvenston initiated a “Shoppers Lounge” which provided entertainment for farm women who use to come into town Saturday night with their families. Stores stayed open to accommodate those who could not shop during the week.
Maggie became almost a household word when it came to volunteers. Each year, an annual award was given to two women who had exemplified what it meant to be a volunteer. One award was given for a woman over 50 years of age, the other for a woman under 50. Of course, women don’t like to tell their ages, but if you were receiving the “Maggie Award,” as it was called, one certainly would not protest. It was a great honor to receive this recognition.
In April, 1987, Maggie announced her retirement. She had been chairman of the board for a total of 51 years, and decided at the age of 80 to retire as chairman, but that did not mean she would retire from volunteer work. As long as she was able, she continued her life of service to the community.
Maggie made a huge impact on the citizens of Greene County. Her effort to serve others continues to be a shining example of what a volunteer can do.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County resident and long-time historical columnist.