Citizen of the Month – Mary Hill

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By JAYNE THURBER-SMITH

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“You can’t talk about my volunteerism without talking about the Niners,” insists Mary Hill. “It’s not about me, it’s the whole club. The Niners are first-class people. They are one big group of givers and hard workers.”

Hill has served as president of Chesapeake’s Niners Seniors’ Club for 13 years. The club got its name for being the ninth senior citizens’ club in Chesapeake when they first formed in 1974. They now boast 105 active members; some members are now residing in nursing homes, which brings the total up to 142. Their oldest member, Amy Jordan, will be 102 this October.

“Amy’s still in great shape and going strong,” Hill smiles. “She’s only been to the hospital when she went there to have her babies! Nine of us in the Niners have been friends for over seventy years, we grew up together. We all do a lot for the community but also for each other. We get together for lunch twice a month and some of us also meet up to play some serious bingo!”

Above all, the Niners operate on the assumption that if there’s a need, there’s a way to meet it. One of their important functions is their annual Toys for Tots campaign held every Christmas.

“All the Niners bring in not just small toys for the children, but larger items like helmets and even bicycles,” Hill says.

They also donate $1,000 a year to the Sheriff’s Senior two-day seminar, which had around 850 in attendance last year.

“That money is raised mostly from our members throwing their loose change in our donations jar,” comments Hill. “Our treasury fund for other needs is built up from activities like fifty-fifty draws, auctions. Everyone is very generous.”

When the Niners heard that the government supplies supper to the Wounded Warriors but not snacks, they held a drive to do something about that.

“Every member brought in huge boxes of snacks, enough to fill up more than one van,” Hill says proudly.

There are many needs being met through Hill’s Niners’ club, but the one closest to her heart is their Veterans Day Program they put on the first Thursday of every November.

“When I first took over as president, all we had been doing for our veterans on their day was calling out the person’s name and saying what branch of service they served in,” she recalls. “I wanted to do so much more than that. We started decorating our club room, added music and made it an actual program including lunch. It expanded to inviting all five branches of the service, so now we’re in the gym at the South Norfolk Community Center with over 300 people.”

The South Norfolk Ruritans donate $300 towards the program, along with $100 coming from the Disabled American Veterans. The rest is covered mostly by Niners members donating their time, money and talent.

“We have a brass band volunteer their time, and they play the veterans in to our program,” Hill says. “Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan helps us out a lot throughout the day too.”

The program includes a keynote speaker, a rose presentation and candlelight service.

“It’s all so moving, we make sure boxes of tissue are on every table,” she says. “The vets stand up and uniformed personnel come by with a rose for each of them. And after I speak to honor the servicemen, the vets give them a rose. Then everyone lights their candles from the pillar candles at the head table, salute the flag, and return to their seats.”

It’s a true hero’s welcome. All of the department heads from the City of Chesapeake attend the program. Flags are provided for every branch of service, and all veterans are honored, for serving in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, right up to today.

“A lieutenant came up to me after one of our dinners, saying she could truthfully say she had never been to anything this nice in all her life,” Hill smiles.

The Niners also accept assistance throughout the day from those on prison work release programs, who often get back more than they give.

“They decorate and wait on the veterans who may be in wheelchairs and need assistance, then they clean up afterwards,” she comments. “Getting to see our veterans up close like that even sets some of them straight.”

Whatever the need is, the Niners want to meet it.

“If the veterans need books we’ll set up a library,” Hill smiles. That is her heart.

“I want to bring back the appreciation that was shown our military at the end of World War II,” she says. “I can remember it as if it was right now, when it was announced that we had won that war. People came running out onto the streets, so excited, and treated our returning servicemen like the heroes they were. Here we are now, still sending the cream of the crop overseas but no city-wide celebration when they return. They deserve to be celebrated.”

Whenever Hill is in line at a food counter and sees a person in service uniform ordering a sandwich or coffee, she refuses to let them open their wallet and insists on paying for them. She encourages everyone to do the same.

“It’s amazing how that small act of gratitude affects them,” she smiles.

All good things must come to an end. Although Hill plans to continue overseeing the Veterans’ Day Program, she is stepping down from her position of President of the Niners on December 31st of this year.

“This is a great send-off for me and my presidency,” she smiled, “to have all the Niners have done and are doing written up like this.”

Congratulations Mary, on being named Citizen of the Month. We appreciate your dedication to public service. The city of Chesapeake is incredibly fortunate to have you as a leader in our community. 

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