Out of the approximately 450 volunteers who donate their time to JourneyCare in Barrington, Marie Schaack stands apart.
She not only is one of the longest serving volunteers in its 32-year history, she is the oldest. In February, Schaack turned 102.
Nevertheless, she still comes to the hospice center every Tuesday morning to help other volunteers in mailing out the agency's bereavement letters.
"We fold the letters and stuff the envelopes," says Schaack, who has lived in Barrington for 42 years. "It's nice to get out of the house and be with a lot of nice people. I feel like I'm doing something worthwhile."
Schaack began volunteering for the agency in 1987, after her husband had been one of its hospice patients. At the time, it was called Hospice & Palliative Care of Northeastern Illinois, and was housed in a white farmhouse on the grounds of Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.
"(JourneyCare) was so good to my husband and they helped me so much," Schaack said, "that I wanted to give back."
She and her fellow volunteers dispatch 200 letters every week as members of the bereavement department. According to volunteer coordinator Jan Farrell, JourneyCare follows up with families who have lost loved ones at three, six, nine and 13 months.
"Marie is extremely dependable," says spokeswoman Lisa Encarnacion. "She takes total ownership of the bereavement letter group. Every once in a while, she jokes about retiring, but then shows up again the following week."
When Schaack celebrated her birthday, JourneyCare volunteers threw her a party. At the time, she reflected on her long life, mostly crediting hard work and staying busy for her longevity.
"You have to keep on going," Schaack says simply, "and don't sit on the couch."
However, she conceded that growing up on a farm in downstate Vermilion, near Starved Rock State Park, instilled a hearty work ethic that has served her well over the years.
As the oldest of four children, she helped her parents with their grain farm. Her chores varied from running the tractor and working in the fields to driving a team of four horses.
"I always loved horseback riding," she adds.
She met her husband, George, at a dance at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. The couple and their son moved to Barrington in 1972, following the advice of a friend.
Schaack still lives in the same townhouse and her son lives two doors down from her. Her eyesight has deteriorated in recent years and she uses a cane to walk, but otherwise she is healthy, friends say.
In part, they credit her longevity to her routine, from rising every morning and sitting by the window for her son to see her as he leaves for work, to the salami sandwich she eats every day for lunch.
"She's just amazing," says Farrell, the volunteer coordinator. "I'm going to have to try eating some of those salami sandwiches."