By Tim Leeds
What started as the result of a tragedy has turned into a lifetime of activity and a source of joy for Mary Surean.
Mary has spent decades volunteering with a host of local organizations.
"It all started when I lost my son. I had to have something to do," she said. "So I decided I wanted to go volunteer."
Her 3-year-old son died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a furnace leak. Mary almost died from the leak.
After she began volunteering at Sacred Heart Hospital in Havre in 1968, the head nurse asked her what she thought about helping the hospital start a candy striper and red coat program for youth volunteers.
"I said, Gee, that would be wonderful, because I love working with kids,'" Mary said.
She says her work is nothing that spectacular, that many other people do much more for the community than she does. The history of her volunteerism says there might not be as many as she says.
She has volunteered for, and received awards from, many different groups since starting at Sacred Heart. She still is.
The Salvation Army gave Mary a certificate Sunday recognizing her as the League of Mercy secretary. She helps people needing help during holidays, at Christmas and Easter.
She received a 30-year pin for her work at the hospital during a volunteer appreciation luncheon in April.
Many organizations have given her awards for her work, but Mary said her favorite is probably the state Senior Citizen Award presented to her in 1992 by then Lt. Gov. Denny Rehberg.
Surean is still involved with many groups. Some of her activities are serving as president of the local chapter of the AARP, vice president of the Eagles' Auxiliary and as a member of the Salvation Army board, and volunteering at the Northern Montana Care Center. She is the noble grand at the Lillian Rebekah Lodge.
Mary, who is 79, said she is not sure how many activities she will keep volunteering for.
"I'm no spring chicken anymore. I've had to cut it down," she said.
She has cut back a bit. Along with her work at Sacred Heart, Deaconness Hospital and Northern Montana Hospital, she volunteered at the Lutheran Home of the Good Shepherd, where she was president of the auxiliary and a member of the caregivers' support group.
Mary said she sucessfully petitioned William Dritshulas, owner of the Duck Inn motel and restaurant and Best Western Great Northern Inn, to donate a bingo board to the Lutheran Home. She also helped get new linen for the home, and helped at two benefit dinners that raised more than $1,000 each, she said.
Mary has volunteered at the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen, was an area chair of the American Cancer Society, volunteered at Head Start for three years, and the list goes on.
She has not been able to do as much volunteering as she might have this summer because of another personal loss. Mary's husband of 57 years, Daniel Surean, died on July 4.
Daniel, who was born north of Havre, is the reason Mary came to Havre. They met in Scotland during World War II, while he was serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps and Mary was a telegrapher in the Royal Air Force.
The couple was married in the St. Joseph of the Holy Child Church in Bedford, England, in 1945, and later came to Havre, where Daniel worked for the Great Northern Railway and farmed.
Mary said that once she is done dealing with estate and other issues resulting from Daniel's death, she'll focus again on volunteerism.
"I'm going to keep busy, get back into the swing of things. You take each day that the good Lord gives you and do the best you can," she said.
Some of her favorite activities have involved children. That was one of the best aspects of working with the young volunteers in the candy stripers and red coats, and working with children in the schools is a wonderful experience, Mary said.
"I love kids. I absolutely love kids," she said. "You can't fool kids. You cannot fool kids. They either like or they don't and you absolutely know it."
Joyce Kops, who taught third grade at Sunnyside School until she retired about four years ago, said the reaction of students in her class when Mary came in was obvious.
"The children absolutely adored Mary. Every time she came into the room, her face would light up and their faces would light up."
Her work was excellent, Joyce added. She was pleasant and encouraged the students, and did a lot to help them do better.
"She would ask the following week how they did, so the students would work just a little bit more for Mary. She was the dream volunteer coming into the class."
Mary still isn't sure whether she will volunteer in the schools again this year but she is starting to lean toward doing it again, just because she wants to help.
"By wanting to do it you get more enjoyment out of it than is imaginable. It warms the heart when you bring a smile to a young person, or an old person," Mary said. "It doesn't matter what you do for people. When they're down and out, that smile means a million dollars for me."