Adeline Henry worked for 38 years before retiring at age 59. Now 88, she has barely slowed down since handing in her timecard.
“Oh, I don’t like to sit still for too long,” she said, noting some of the many organizations to which she has donated her time as a volunteer. For the past 15 years, the Priests of the Sacred Heart have been one of them.
“I have always had a devotion to the Sacred Heart,” said Adeline. “When I saw an advertisement in the Catholic Herald saying that they needed volunteers here, I called right away. I knew it would be right.”
Adeline has a long history of helping where needed. The youngest of seven children, she dropped out of school after eighth grade because her mother was in poor health and needed a caregiver. Adeline continued to assist her for over 25 years.
In her early 20s she added a full-time job outside the home to her caretaking duties.
Retirement from that job wasn’t in Adeline’s plans at age 59, but a company reorganization left her and others in her department out of work.
“We worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, because of some big project,” she said.
When the overtime hours came to an end she and her coworkers learned that the “big project” they were working on was preparation for the closing of their own department.
“Came in on Monday after having the weekend off and found out that we were laid off… permanently,” she said.
A new beginning
Almost 60, she found herself looking for a new job. “But no one was going to hire a 59-year-old woman trying to start over,” she said.
After a month, Adeline said “enough!” Money was going to be tight, but she had enough to get by. Instead of continuing her search for a job, she decided to spend more time doing what she loved: volunteering.
One of her first regular volunteer jobs was at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee, working in the gift shop. That was on top of volunteer hours in parish organizations, the National Catholic Society of Foresters and Interfaith of Milwaukee.
“I think during my life I have put in as many volunteer hours as paid ones,” she said.
It was the advertisement in Milwaukee’s Catholic Herald that led Adeline to the Priests of the Sacred Heart. At the time, volunteer help was needed at the gift shop affiliated with the Sacred Heart Shine.
“I loved working in gift shops; it was what I had done for years at St. Joe’s,” said Adeline.
Soon she was a regular face at Sacred Heart. But after a few years she was caught in another reorganization. The gift shop moved down the road to the development office. Instead of volunteers, staff at the front desk would assist visitors.
But before Adeline could look for another volunteer opportunity Kathy Harty, a librarian at SHST, asked if she had some time to spare. The library needed help cataloguing books.
“I was 80 years old and they were going to have me use a computer!” said Adeline.
Kathy said that even though Adeline had never touched a computer before (she didn’t even know how to type!) she learned.
“She can search the online library catalog now,” said Kathy. “She often tells us that she is amazed that here she is, at this time in her life, using a computer!”
You can find Adeline at work at the SHST library every Tuesday. Often she comes in wearing one of her famous hats. “Adeline loves hats,” said Kathy. “She always has something on her head… veiled hats, red hats… always something.”
Adeline seems to have a knack for applying the skills she learns at one place to help at another. One of the first lay residents to move to Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake (“I signed up for it two years before we could finally move in!”) she quickly went to work setting up a library for the residents.
“She and Fr. Charles Yost, SCJ, went through the boxes of donations together,’ said Kathy. “She set up the shelves, and continues to take care of the periodicals.”
Besides helping residents with at the SHML library, Adeline has also helped several learn how to use the library across the street at SHST.
A devout Catholic with a strong faith that she says she gets from her mother, one of the reasons Adeline moved to SHML was the possibility of daily Mass on-site.
“Now that I don’t drive that is really important to me,” she said. Adeline gave up her driving privileges at the beginning of the year. Doing so meant not only losing a sense of independence but also “giving up one of my volunteer jobs.”
For years Adeline volunteered with Milwaukee’s Interfaith, giving the elderly and others with mobility problems rides to appointments.
It is one of the few times in her life that the roles are reversed and it is Adeline who is now dependent on the assistance of volunteers.
Don’t forget the “B!”
As the interview with her came to a close Adeline reminded her visitor “not to forget the ‘B,’” referring to her middle initial of “B” for “Beatrice.”
“There are at least three other Adeline Henrys in the Milwaukee area and they’ve all ended up in the obituaries,” said Adeline BEATRICE Henry. “Every time I have to let people know, ‘That’s not me, I’m still alive.
“I plan to stay around as long as the Lord lets me!”