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91-year-old Christian Layman Corps volunteer enjoys ‘doing something worthwhile’

April 12, 2018 GMT

Standing behind a counter in the back of the Christian Layman Corps thrift store in Greensburg, Mary Wollam neatly folded clothing for display on the sale racks.

One room away, dozens of bags stuffed with donations awaited the same treatment.

Wollam, of Hempfield, began volunteering one day a week with the nonprofit about three years ago.

In January, she turned 91.

“I enjoy it. I enjoy the (other) girls and that I’m doing something worthwhile,” she said.

Wollam’s neighbor and fellow volunteer, Rosemary Gates, suggested Wollam might be interested in helping out at the store.

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“After my husband (Greensburg attorney Nevin Wollam, who died in 2012) passed away, she said, ‘Mary, you should come,’” Wollam said.

The two women often carpool for their shift, and Wollam has found many new friends among the other volunteers and staff.

“So many of my friends have passed away, or are not able to get around. ... I’m still on my feet. All of the girls are good friends. Everyone here is really nice, and Curt is great,” she said.

Curtis Hoffman is president and CEO of Christian Layman Corps, who lauds his crew of about 85 volunteers — most are over age 70 — for their contributions.

“They are good people. ... They were brought up well and are giving back,” he said. “These people are like their family. They look forward to seeing each other every week,” he said.

“Mary does the sorting, clothing, pots and pans, knickknacks,” Hoffman said.

Other volunteers work the cash registers, answer the phone and help out with the on-site food pantry.

Wollam is among the many volunteers he has come to depend on, Hoffman said.

According to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, volunteering offers numerous benefits for senior citizens, including improved mental, emotional and physical health.

“I love Mary. ... She’s comfortable here. She has good friends. She’s quiet and does her work,” Hoffman said.

Wollam, whose maiden name was Connolly, grew up in Greensburg and has lived in the area all her life.

“In fact, it was right across the street,” she said, gesturing toward Urania Avenue.

“This was a Chevy garage when I was younger,” she said of the Pittsburgh Street store.

As a child, Wollam recalled having cousins “by the dozens.”

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“My mother was one of 13 children,” she said.

She and her husband raised a son, Jerry Wollam, 70, who lives in New Mexico.

“He wants me to move out there. I’m not so sure,” she said.

“He says, ‘Mom, I can’t take care of you (there).’ I say, ‘Jerry, I don’t need taking care of yet.’ He says he worries about me. I worry about him,” Wollam said.

Yet Greensburg is home, where she worked with her husband in his downtown law office and where she studied painting years ago, a hobby she still enjoys. The couple learned to ski here, at their son’s urging, surprising themselves with how much they enjoyed schussing down the slopes at Seven Springs Mountain Resort and Laurel Mountain Ski Resort.

“He kept saying, ‘Mom, you’ve got to try this.’ I said, ‘I’m too old.’ He said, ‘You’re never too old.’ We tried it and we loved it,” she said.

The Wollams also enjoyed traveling, visiting Ireland three times.

“He was great. He was funny. I’m really glad that we did those things,” she said.

They collected Irish crystal on their trips, giving Wollam knowledge that came in handy at the thrift store when she recognized a donation of Waterford crystal that was priced too low for resale.

Wollam fretted that she did not deserve being singled out from other volunteers, despite her age.

Volunteer Suzanne Kinney, of Greensburg, put that thought to rest.

“We couldn’t do it without you, Mary. I missed you last week” when snow kept Wollam at home, Kinney said.

Wollam plans to continue working, she said, “as long as I’m able.”

Heading into the back room, she nodded toward the pile of bags of donations, yet to be sorted.

“There is always something to do here,” she said.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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