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A feel-good helper

By Staff | Aug 21, 2016

“I just thought, ‘I’m going to retire,’ and I pulled off my gloves and, once my supervisor returned to work from a trip, I notified him that while he was away, I retired. ‘Just like that?’ he asked me, and I said, ‘Yep, just like that.”

That was back in 2000, when Karen Asmus was working at Telex Communications in Blue Earth and retired on the spot. It’s been 16 years since her retirement, and Asmus has not spent one day resting, yet. Well, maybe a few, but this woman did not receive the 2016 Outstanding Senior Citizen Award of Faribault County for nothing.

“I’m proud of being a senior citizen,” said Asmus. “I have 18 great-grandchildren, eight grandchildren, and four children of my own. I’m watching my children become grandparents, how can I not be proud of that?”

To be fair, Asmus has been a busy bee since she was little, helping her stepfather on the farm she grew up on in Rake, Iowa.

“I’d always ask to help my stepdad when it came to farm chores. Of course, I had my own chores to do, too, but I always wanted to help him milk the cows,” says Asmus with a smile.

She says even though she has a strong work ethic, once she was officially retired, that’s actually when things got busy for her.

“As soon as I retired, my phone started ringing off the hook,” she laughs. “People began asking me if I could help with projects and activities, and I have a hard time saying that two letter word, so I just got busy and haven’t really slowed down much. My kids say it helps me stay young.”

What is it that keeps Asmus so young and so busy? A laundry list of volunteer work, that’s what.

For starters, Asmus is an active member at the First Presbyterian Church in Blue Earth. She has been a member of the board of elders, their church circle, and is the church’s liaison for the St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center Auxiliary. She coordinates with other members of the church, and the 20 other churches in the community that volunteer their time and supplies to assist St. Luke’s residents.

“We have the nurses at St. Luke’s make a list of things that are needed. Whether it’s comforters or coffee pots, whatever we can do to help, we help,” says Asmus.

And one of her favorite parts of volunteering with the Auxiliary for St. Luke’s is helping with Bingo.

“We help the residents place their bingo chips, or help them understand which numbers were called, and of course handing out the prizes is always fun,” she says.

However, there is one project that Asmus helps with at the Presbyterian Church that she does every year, and it is called Operation Christmas Child. This volunteer operation is an off-branch of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, and Asmus is the coordinator for the local relay center in Blue Earth.

“We receive dozens and dozens of shoe boxes from local communities like Delavan, Easton, Kiester, Thompson, Iowa, Titonka, Iowa; all over, and we fill these shoe boxes with toys and toiletries for children all across the world,” she says with a beaming smile. “It’s awesome and very rewarding, and these children get to hear the word of God, too.”

Asmus is responsible for setting up the relay center in the area, coordinating people who will help out at the relay center, and getting the shoe boxes moved up to Minneapolis, with the help of Bruce Ankeny and his furniture moving truck, that is.

“We are so thankful for all of our volunteers that help with this project, and Bruce has always been one to donate the use of his truck for our hundreds of happy shoe boxes,” she says.

The project begins early in the fall and by Thanksgiving, the shoe boxes are ready to be sorted and sent. Recently, Asmus was able to attend a speech where she met one of the young men who received a shoe box when he was a child.

“He said his favorite part about the whole shoe box was the toothpaste because it tasted so good and nothing like he had, so he would just use a tiny bit and put it on his tongue,” she laughs. “And that’s the joy that makes this volunteer effort so worth it.”

And no, Asmus’ list of volunteering does not stop there. She also helps with local bake sales and ice cream socials, some of which are put on by the Faribault County Historical Society, which Asmus is also a member of.

She spends hours at the Historic Wakefield house and the Etta C. Ross library so that people are able to tour the historic buildings of Blue Earth. She’s also in charge of the newer General Store on History Lane during the fair. Fun fact: all of the items at the General Store are donations. Those donations are then given to Asmus who will look up fair prices for the values of the items and sell them for the fair.

“This is the only real revenue the historical society has. Everything else is all donated,” says Asmus. And yes, she plays a role in volunteering her time for the FCHS’s many banquets, breakfasts and pie and ice cream socials, too.

Nope, she is not done yet. Not even by a long shot. When Asmus is not at her church helping with projects or down on History Lane sweeping up at the school house, Asmus likes to quilt in her spare time.

She has sewn a quilt for every single one of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren (that’s 26 quilts if you are counting) and she also makes about 20 or more extra quilts in her spare time to take to the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester.

“I try to pick the boldest, brightest, most cheerful colors for those quilts, so those families and especially those children have something bright to focus on instead of the battles that they are facing,” she says.

Asmus, through all of her hard volunteer work, says that volunteering is the easiest thing a person, retired or not, can do.

“It’s just time. Take a step out there. Whether it is volunteering for the food shelf once a month or once a day. Do it for others, for children, for the historical society or for your friends and neighbors at the senior center or St. Luke’s. Just do it. It feels so good,” she says with a smile.

And it is that smile and that joyous heart that has caught the attention of others, though Asmus says she likes to do her work out of the limelight, that has helped her to receive her 2016 Outstanding Senior Citizen Award for Faribault County.