What are your fears? We all have them. You know, the ones that hold you back from being your better self. Fear of failure, success, rejection, not having enough, being good enough or perhaps fear of being alone.
Margaret Andersen, current Hometown Hero, says fear is behind much of our relationship difficulties and the divisiveness and rancor in our religions and politics. She frowns as she pauses and adds, “I am thinking specifically right now of the current presidential campaign and how fear separates us.”
“We identify with like-minded people and we think we can prove our point by putting someone else down. Sometimes it seems that our various tribal identities still drive us.”
Margaret states her strong belief that ultimately “it is fear, not hate, which is the opposite of love. It can be the root of many bad choices. It often disguises itself as anger.”
Andersen says, “The first step to getting over our fears is recognizing them and where they might come from. Once we do this, we have a chance of changing how a fear can overwhelm us… almost viscerally. I’m not sure we can get over some of our fears, but I do think that understanding them can help keep them at bay.”
Andersen tells of a tangible straightforward fear.
“I almost drowned at 5 years old. I couldn’t go in the water again until a high school teacher suggested I ‘jump’ into the water. Somehow it worked.”
Some fears are useful, and can even be used to help other people. Andersen and her husband Bob both volunteer full-time for the underpowered children and adults, and those lacking basic needs. Growing up poor, Andersen overcame the fear of not having enough. This morphed into a concern for others, and into action. Both retired from AT&T as high-level executives, with hundreds of employees under them, they now use their skills and aptitudes to help others.
Elizabeth Guss, St. Hubert’s pastoral assistant, offers a partial example of some of Andersen’s volunteering: Whidbey Island Nourishes (WIN), St. Hubert Catholic Church, the Social Justice Commission, local politics and the list goes on.
“Quietly, usually behind the scenes, she infuses prodigious energy,” Guss said. “When necessary, she speaks forcefully, yet always lovingly. I have learned much from her.”
When knocking on Andersen’s door, she and her husband Bob greet you, and wave you in with inclusive arms and wide smiles. Bob excuses himself and goes back to his office to work on his volunteer cases for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). Andersen introduces you to Gabby and Sable, their beloved two indoor rescue cats. Then it’s out to their front porch to view the wild birds. Sitting down at their kitchen table, her entire face smiles then her expression quickly turns sober when discussing causes.
“I am here on this big blue marble to be of service to those in need; I focus mostly on children,” she said. “I grew up poor. My mother had to send me to the local grocery store to ask for free bread.”
Andersen can relate from her childhood to others fear of not having enough.
“My faith does ask me to care for the earth and others and help to bring respect and dignity to every interaction. I agree with the tenets of social justice which include getting involved in bringing dignity to humans, acting in solidarity with people who may not be like me.”
This brought her to one for her volunteer endeavors, Whidbey Island Nourishes.
“Margaret so very much deserves this Hometown Hero distinction,” said Laura Taylor, an organization volunteer. “While Mary Fisher is the heart of WIN, Margaret Andersen is the engine. WIN has been able to take advantage of Margaret’s executive background. Margaret is able to parse out facts and zero in on what is essential. Margaret has done anything and everything that needs doing. She writes grants, helps with fundraisers, finances, prepares meals, and then steps back and never wants any ‘limelight’ or kudos. She’s an exceptional role model for the rest of us.”
Andersen believes it’s her responsibility to help alleviate fear and a lack of basic needs. The latter “spreads to all kinds of other fears,” she said, which get in the way of communication.
“For example, when we are so attached to our opinions that we do not want to hear another’s view,” Andersen said. “In the political arena, I have experienced that we can be so protective of our views that we can be afraid to even listen to another’s idea. Fear can cause defensiveness, hatred, and dismissive judgment. Is it that we are afraid if we listen and modify our belief, were we wrong all these years? Change isn’t easy, but it can be good for us.”
She says people driven by fear appear to avoid change, defend their positions, sometimes with violence and manipulation.
“Fear causes people to feel threatened that others may have better ideas than their own. We humans still have the ‘cave’ mentality for fear, but this is so destructive in our relationships, communities, nation and world.”
When she feels a fear reaction coming on, Andersen asks herself, “Is this how I want to act?” She reflects on a gathering she went to, where a perspective tool was given, called a Yea/Boo way of looking at a lot of life’s difficulties. She gives two examples: “I was born… yea, but now I’m old and can’t walk very well… boo. I started working out again… yea, but now my bad knee is bothering me… boo.”
She says not all people can grasp this “yea/boo,” that our societal problems are mental health issues.
“We desperately need more medical advocates for the vulnerable,” she said. “When my darling East Coast 94-year-old aunt was placed in a hospital, I flew there to see how I could help. When I saw her she was as goofy as a box of rocks. I asked what medications she was given, and when I asked to have it removed she came right back.”
Returning home, Andersen helped to organize an elder care advocates education group to learn more about advocating for the elderly.
“Modern fears I think come from reality shows, and the ‘mean girl syndrome’ that we as a culture have created. The anti-bullying has helped some but it might have come along too late. It’s no longer thought of as classy to take the high road and treat others with respect. … To break this cycle of fear and bullying takes courage. It’s about how we choose to perceive life.”
Andersen says we can reduce the power of our fears. She learned that asking for feedback after being rejected can sometimes bring light to the situation.
“Recently, for instance, I was turned down for a large grant I wrote for WIN,” she said. “I called and asked why? They told me they never award a grant until the charity asks for three years in a row. If I hadn’t asked, I never might have applied again, but I sure will now.”
Sally Hardenberg of St. Hubert’s remarks, “When I think of Margaret, the first thing to pop in my head, the words she continually says, is ’How can I help?’ She is the most amazingly generous kind calm and giving person I have yet to meet.”
“Margaret inspires me, and I know others too want to be a better person, a person that does more volunteering, more service and more giving. She is fearless when it comes to being charitable.”
Margaret Jean Andersen
Born: May 11, 1949 Chicago Ill.
Education: Madonna High School, Chicago College-Loyola & DePaul graduate degree
Spouse: Bob Wolters, married 23 years
Children: Two daughters: Elizabeth, age 41 and Theresa age 37
Grandchildren: First one due April 1st
Years on Whidbey: 8 years
Hobbies: Knitting, crocheting, bird watching and reading.
What others say about Margaret Andersen
“I know Margaret from her work with WIN. She is passionate, caring and dedicated to feeding children and families by leading WIN. She always has a smile on her face and is ready to help. Margaret gives countless hours of time and support and makes it look effortless. When I have worked with Margaret she has always been calm and organized. She inspires others because she stays focused and cheerful while working hard to get the job done for kids.”
Jo Moccia, South Whidbey School District
“I attended a WIN fundraiser where a beautiful alpaca shawl, donated by Margaret, was part of the silent auction. I placed several bids on them as the shawl was a beautiful teal color, which is the color associated with ovarian cancer which my wife Linda is again facing with a recent reoccurrence. We were not the high bidder, but the next day Margaret dropped off the shawl. Margaret told them she could knit them another one. It was the kindness of her note and the thought she would be praying for us that touched me to the core as when Margaret looks you in the eye and tells you she will pray you can count on it.”
Carol Kerley, Langley
“Margaret is one of those amazing individuals who steps up and commits her time and considerable talents to address the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. She brings her heart and elegance to every task. Margaret richly deserves this recognition.”
Helen Price Johnson, Island County Commissioner
“Margaret Andersen is one of those rare people who are not only intelligent, logical, truly interested in bettering the world and energetic in pursuing that goal, but she is also kind. Margaret has the rare quality of modesty while knowing her worth. She is not bombastic about her views. Margaret is a woman you would want on your team. She is exceptional in her willingness to volunteer her time and has great integrity. Margaret truly cares.”
Kathryn and Conrad Von Doran
“Margaret Andersen is simply tireless in her commitment to making South Whidbey a better place. She’s never going to say, ‘Look at me! Look at what I did today,’ because she’ll be the one just getting the job done. Her ability to assess a problem, see a solution and then to execute a plan is motivating for those who work with her. A million times, our board has said, ‘Where would we be without Margaret?’ She has an amazing ability not just to make things happen, but to empower those around her to make things happen, and she does it all with a lion’s heart — fierce and strong.”
“Margaret has made a huge impact on South Whidbey. Margaret volunteered at the intermediate school when I was in charge of the Red Flyer Reading Program. She and Bob would show up each week, take time from their busy schedules and read with children. She helps me each year when our church puts up the Giving Tree for helping others.”
Jean Duffy, community volunteer
“A lover of social justice, a true friend to those in need, compassionate, loyal to the core, generous, kind, a dogged persistence, fun — these are but a few of the ways I describe Margaret. She is usually the first one to see that someone is in need, and the first to find creative ways to meet that need. We are so blessed to have Margaret as our Hometown Hero.”
Laurie Julian, friend
“Margaret is a person of faith. She is a peace-maker and strives for every person in a group to have the opportunity to participate. She and Bob are generous in sharing their home, and she prepares each individual’s food preferences, gluten free, sugarless, you name it. She is a cat lover and is great at training them.
“She’s a gem, totally committed to whatever cause needs her. Margaret has a laser-like focus on the problems at hand and is just relentless in solving them. I often call to tap her wisdom and experience. Margaret really cares for the disadvantaged and challenged. She’s somethin’ else.”
“Margaret, is always on the ‘search’ to create ways that impact people and community. She has a unique way of combining her creativity skills with her logic, practical skills; by designing great discussion topics for community as well as managing the financial books for her organizations.”
“Margaret is the smartest, kindest and most generous woman I have ever known.”
“Margaret and her husband Bob came in and made order out of a very chaotic situation with much calm and aplomb. As a group, none of us had ever put on an auction and didn’t know what we were doing. Thank goodness for Margaret or our donors might have marched out the driveway before we got their bids straightened out! She has taken the organization through the mine field of becoming an 501c3 [nonprofit]. She has also helped with food orders, volunteering and a myriad of other tasks. WIN would not be where it is today without her drive and commitment.”
Mary Fisher, WIN founder/volunteer
“If our lives are our messages to the world, Margaret’s is a message of love and generosity. She works many hours a day, quietly creating a community of one in which nobody is hungry and all are included in a circle of respectful neighborliness. She brings to her work not just her fierce belief in human worth and equality, but years of skills gained from her high level corporate work.
“I met Margaret at AT&T in 1986. She caught my eye and I was struck by her intelligence, however what was most impressive was her impact on others. Men, and especially younger women in the business had a role model in how Margaret never displayed an agenda for her next promotion. To her employees and her client, she was all about them and their needs, not herself.”
Bob Wolters, Margaret’s husband and CASA full-time
“I’ve seen Margaret deeply involved in hours of selfless, humble serving at St. Hubert’s. Whether as chairperson or member of the finance council, leading the Peace and Social Justice Commission, helping organize the Women of St. Hubert, serving at Lenten Soup Suppers, or simply working in any way to make sure the parish was a warm and welcoming community. She loves to laugh and make ‘work’ into ‘fun.’”
Greg A. Stone,
“Margaret has a sharp mind and familiarity with regulations. I have learned a great deal in a short amount of time regarding budgeting, state and federal regulations especially IRS requirements. Watching her in action often reminds me of the broader issues that must be kept in focus.”
Danette Sulgrove, volunteer
“If I were putting together a team to do (almost) anything, Margaret Andersen is the first person I would choose. Margaret is a hard worker who knows how to get things done. She has creative ideas and strong opinions, yet is always willing to compromise for the common good. Margaret surprised the 12 of us in our women’s circle with beautiful warm shawls, the color chosen specially for each of us.”
Corrine Bayley, church volunteer
“I think it’s wonderful that Margaret Andersen will be recognized as a Hometown Hero. Margaret is a dedicated volunteer in a number of ways. She freely shares her many and varied skills to benefit the community in so many ways. And she often brings chocolate to otherwise dull meetings!”
PERSONAL SIDES FROM MARGARET
Best advice you have ever been given?
My dad told me to “Stay out of trouble.”
Seven South Whidbey people you admire?
“My loving husband Bob, for his passion to advocate for abused and neglected children. Janice O’Mahony for sharing her big heart and brain and making a difference for so many. Fr. Rick Spicer and Elizabeth Guss, at the St. Hubert Catholic church for their work in creating community.
Nancy Nordhoff for being a role model taking risks addressing specific local needs. Lynn Willeford for creating organizations that benefit the community and empowers others. Helen Price Johnson for her service and dedication. Cynthia Trenshaw and Sari Spieler for their end-of-life work. Fred and Sharon Lundahl for their local and world work. All leaders and volunteers in this community.”
What does it mean to have class?
“Taking the high road, and causing others to feel comfortable.”
“The Righteous Mind,” and “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar.”
If you could do anything what would it be?
“Travel to other planets and bring back new ideas and different cultures.”
Advice to live by?
“The Golden Rule, and the sayings “Not everything you think is true” and “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.”
Something that is currently uncomfortable for you?
“Frankly, this article. What convinced me to do it is a local friend told me that if even one reader might resonate and get something from this article, it’s worth the embarrassment.”