‘Kindness goes a long way’
-Trudy Pierce, Senior of the Year
When Mike and Trudy Pierce moved to Owatonna in 1974, Trudy wanted to find new friends.
The search led her to the Steele County 4-H program and, 48 years later, an award for the couple as this year’s Steele County Outstanding Seniors.
“My very first job in 1974 I was a bookkeeper in a plumbing shop,” Trudy recalled. “One of the plumbers said, ‘Trud, if you want to get involved in something, get involved in 4-H. You’ll meet some really nice people.’”
The Pierces both have fond memories of working as adult advisors and at the 4-H food stands during the Steele County Fair. Trudy said kids they worked with over the years would come back at fair time and ask to help out.
Mike also got involved with the Owatonna VFW early on–he’s a Vietnam veteran–and Trudy joined the Auxiliary. They’ve both held leadership roles at the district and state level; Mike also has served as a chairman at the national level.
As a member of the Moonlighters Exchange Club, Mike has been instrumental in the group’s Owatonna Veterans Memorial project, which broke ground last week. He is a life member of the Am Vets Post #23 and Elks Lodge #1395 and helped with American Red Cross bloodmobiles, the annual Memorial Day parade, and at the Steele County History Center.
Trudy has also volunteered at bloodmobiles, the History Center and Village of Yesteryear, and the Memorial Day committee, as well as the Steele County Free Fair, Owatonna Hospital Pink Pantry Gift Shop, the Orphanage Museum, Country Charms Extension Club, the American Legion Auxiliary, and the Ladies Elks.
When asked about their favorite volunteer activity, though, Mike and Trudy give the same answer: Owatonna’s annual community holiday dinners.
“It’s not necessarily for people who can’t do their own meal,” Mike said. “It’s done so people aren’t alone on the holidays.”
For years, the Pierces rearranged their own family celebrations to serve up hundreds of meals for their Owatonna neighbors. The event is supported with community donations, including turkeys at Thanksgiving and turkeys and hams at Christmas.
After working with founder Virginia Stirens, the couple took over coordinating the dinners. Mike worked in the kitchen, where volunteers fire up the ovens at 5 a.m. and cook all day long.
“I was not allowed in the kitchen,” Trudy said. “I got to stand at the door and greet everybody.”
Over the years, many of those folks “got to be like family,” she said.
One young family stands out in her memory, a single mother with three small children. The mother asked if it would be okay for them to help with the dinner.
“The middle boy whipped off his jacket, threw it down, and said, ‘I’m ready!’” Trudy laughed.
Health issues forced the Pierces to give up the dinner two years ago. Mike had his first heart attack at age 44 and lost his leg 11 years ago. Even as they approach their 80s, though, they continue to give back whenever and wherever they can.
While quiet and humble about their contributions, Mike and Trudy are both grateful to be honored as Steele County Outstanding Seniors.
“I accept it with gratitude, and I thank them for thinking of us to do that,” Mike said.
The reasons they volunteer, though, come from the heart.
“It just makes you feel good to make other people feel good,” Trudy said. “I’ve been down and out. We both have. There’s always somebody who steps up to say, ‘Can we help you?’”
“I just want to treat people the way I want to be treated in the community,” she added. “Kindness goes a long way.”
If you go:
What: Steele County Free Fair Senior Recognition
When: Thursday, August 18, 11:30 a.m.
Where: United Prairie Bank Fair Square Stage