Mary Fisher says she’s learned to bloom wherever she is in life. When Fisher’s kids left home, she felt emptiness, and wanted to fill that hole. She looked close to home, and became aware of kids in need of nutritious food right here on South Whidbey.
In 2007, she co-founded Whidbey Island Nourishes, or WIN, a program that feeds, nourishes and educates island children, including those who are in need and homeless. She has served as president and been a volunteer ever since.
Fisher’s Aunt Nancy was an inspiration for WIN. In the 1960s her husband left her for another woman and she didn’t know what to do with her life. Then Aunt Nancy learned of the people who were in need of food, and she started a food program in her hometown.
“She found a way to feed her soul and feed thousands of others too,” Fisher said. “Her program outlived her and still goes on today.”
Fisher says she likes to partner with others, so when she became aware of this need on South Whidbey she called Jonni Reed and Dorit Zingarelli and the three brainstormed ideas. They talked about how all kids need nutritious food, and at first concentrated on those most in need, either homeless or from the working poor.
“We started to plan, and wondered how we could find the ones who were homeless? Could we just serve soup off the tailgate?” Reed said.
Fisher stayed the course, remaining the president of WIN, never accepting “no” for an answer and worked to spread the word.
Today, WIN has nutritious sandwiches in coin-less vending machines that are placed in strategic places, making healthy sack lunches available for needy kids. According to Reed, not only has WIN provided nourishment to hundreds, but it also has served as a gateway for new friendships forged from volunteers who regularly work side-by-side.
“Mary is a force,” Reed said. “She assesses a situation and gets to work.”
Fisher lives with her husband Tom, a woodworker and member of the Rural Characters music group, their cat and with many wild birds. Surrounding their home is a public nursery which she envisioned, created and maintains.
Their home looks like an early 1900s Victorian farmhouse. It was all hand built by her husband using old recycled and authentic materials.
Fisher says, “I really enjoy the nursery and the people who come here to look at or purchase plants. However, what feeds my soul is how my children are doing, and WIN.”
The food projects that are taking place for kids in Whidbey schools, not just the needy, are very exciting, she added. There are school gardens where students can see their own vegetables in their lunches, said Fisher, and all children are learning at a young age about nutrition and that people “are what we put into our body, and how their body runs depends on the fuel they give it.”
WIN gives in other ways too, such as communicating important lessons to the youths it serves. Kids are told their community cares enough about them to make sure they get healthy food, that they won’t always be in need, and “to remember the care they were shown when the time comes they can give back to others.”
Fisher says she knows firsthand that teen years can be the hardest for many kids. Her older sister was a popular cheerleader while she was the opposite — “awkward looking and terribly shy.” Fisher’s sister had made quite an impression on the teachers, and she still remembers quite clearly a teacher calling her name from a roster during her first class in high school.
“When I raised my hand, he said, ‘You’re Nancy’s sister? What happened to you?’ This comment was devastating to me, and caused me to become even more shy,” Fisher said.
Her mother was an awesome mom. Her dad taught the kids a lot of skills, she remarks, “but he was also powerfully scary.” Problems with her father would affect her future relationships with men, and Fisher eventually began attending therapy.
She would later confront her father, beginning a healing process that led to forgiveness.
“I think being open about everything is important for our mental and physical health,” Fisher said. “We need to be able to shake things off like animals do.”
Fisher says working on tangible projects or in the garden is an easy thing for her to do. Living life clearly and growing is the hard but necessary work of being alive.
“Lots of people look at a problem and bemoan it,” said Lynn Willeford, a WIN volunteer. “Mary looked at a problem and immediately set about figuring out how to do something.”
Every year since she founded WIN, Fisher has come up with yet another innovative way to feed hungry kids of all ages, Willeford said. Fisher built a solid and dedicated volunteer base, fostered partnerships with other local organizations, and is teaching kids to recognize and appreciate healthy foods, she added.
“I have the greatest respect for what she’s accomplished,” Willeford said.
Fisher inspires others to do more themselves. George Henny, Whidbey Telecom CEO, called her “an amazing force of goodness and health in our community.” She reaches out with a heart for each and every person and the projects she has created, like WIN, nurture the very foundations of community, he said.
“She inspires me to reach farther and dig deeper to help serve others,” Henny said. “We need more people like Mary.”
What’s her secret? Fisher says her life is guided by a philosophy that there is simply no better time or place for a person to start blooming than right now. It works for her, and she believes it could for others too. It begins with a simple question.
“What is your real passion, and if you aren’t pursuing it, why not?”
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT MARY
“Mary Fisher has a heart as wide as they come. She expresses her love for others by nourishing their bodies and their spirits. For years, I watched Mary care for her own children and their friends and then expand that care to the schools at large through the South Whidbey Schools Foundation. But in my mind, it was watching WIN grow and thrive that most exemplifies the scope of her vision and the depth of her heart. WIN is a labor of love applied with energy and enthusiasm. South Whidbey is so lucky to have Mary.”
Diana Lindsay, Founder of WOW and community volunteer
“Mary has a passion for helping others. Once she commits to a cause, she works tirelessly. Her creativity is a plus. Many community members witnessed her commitment and energetic spark during the several years she hosted the South Whidbey Schools Foundation Garden Party and Auction.”
“She’s Mama Earth herself who has the energy of a rocket ship and a heart to equal it. She can be flat on her back with back pain and still be making important calls, working to make sure the community’s hungry [people] are being fed, all while knitting a blanket for a young loved one and then doting on her grandchildren with wonderful adventures and nourishment for their souls. She’s never afraid to ask or step up when needed or admit her mistakes. And you couldn’t ask for a more fun loving and generous human being, who brings beauty and creativity to the world.”
co-founder of WIN
“Mary is a caring and loving person, and if you are a child who needs help you are lucky to live in her community. I don’t know anyone who is more dedicated to helping other people—especially children. I keep wanting to describe her as “fierce” which is how she lives her life and loves her children and her colors and her loyalty and her commitment to helping those who need help. Pretty hard to beat.”
volunteer for WIN
“Mary nurtures. She makes things grow. Her gardens and landscapes are gorgeous and she gives the same loving care to the people in her life and to her community. Her commitment to Whidbey Island Nourishes is inspiring and contagious. She is the epitome of the idea that if you want something done ask the busiest person you know!”
Family Resource Center executive director
“Mary Fisher is a creative, energetic, compassionate woman. She wows me with her gorgeous flower gardens, her handmade everything, and her unique personal style. What I most admire, however, is the way she saw a need and took responsibility to do something about it; she created W.I.N. to provide hungry children in our community with healthy food. Her enthusiasm and nonjudgmental attitude have inspired many volunteers and her creativity and outreach have grown the organization in stimulating new directions. I get excited seeing her photos of beautiful displays of vegetables as they teach children how delicious fresh foods can be. Mary is making our world more beautiful and healthy every day.”
“Mary Fisher is an Island rockstar, not to be compared to her crazy singer/lyricist husband. She is one of those ‘can- do’ women on Whidbey Island that makes life richer and better because of her work and her presence. We all (her friends, families, young people who have grown because of WIN) would be less without Mary Fisher.”
Jerry Millhon, Whidbey Institute
“Mary tirelessly devotes whatever free time she had to South Whidbey’s youth. Clearly that is her passion, facilitating our children’s growth and development through fundraising (South Whidbey Schools Foundation) and this past decade WIN. Without Mary’s determination and direction, we islanders wouldn’t have had WIN to feed and educate our less fortunate youth on Whidbey. Thanks to Mary’s indefatigable efforts, WIN is part of our daily life enriching all of us.”
Kirk and Judith Prindle
“Mary’s dedication to WIN continually surprises, impresses, and inspires me. She is a very busy woman — a business owner and an active grandparent, among other things — yet always finds the time and energy to move WIN forward, perpetually reshaping and growing the organization, expanding its scope and reach, and raising its overall level of excellence. She saw a need in the community and decided to do something about it. Here we are seven years later, making 20,000 sandwiches per year — she really reminds me that one can absolutely be the change they wish to see in the world.”
WIN board member
MARY FISHER’S BIOGRAPHY
Birth: Dec. 31, 1950, Macon, Georgia.
Education: High school in Severn Park, Maryland; college, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, Calif.
Spouse: Tom, married 38 years.
Years on Whidbey: 31.
Hobbies: Bird watching, bug watching, paper crafts, knitting, crocheting, beading.
South Whidbey people who inspire you: Vito Zingarelli, Kitty Adams, Kathy McCabe, Cary Peterson, Sarri Gilman, Dorit Zingarelli, Jonni Reed, Sally Goodwin, Molly Layman and Shirley Collins.
Who would you like to meet? “Walter Nash, my mom’s dad. He was a rancher in Colorado, and so progressive that he felt it more important for women to go to college than men because he said that women have the most influence on children. He paid for all of his daughters to go to college.”
Who would you like to apologize to? “A friend in the early 1970s that I went on a road trip with. We were having such a great time, but then when some people I knew didn’t approve of her, I also looked at her differently and wanted to not go on a longer trip with her.”
Your epitaph in seven words? “Work was play and life was work.”
What are you surprised about how your life turned out? “That I went from being so shy and awkward to feeling good about myself.”
One of the nicest things anyone ever did for you? “SW Bonnie Arndt paid for a workshop for me to go to in the 1990s when I was having a tough time.”
What book would you like to write? “I have no desire to write a book.”
What do you think your weakness is? “I am too quick to speak up — I interrupt and don’t give people a chance to finish their sentence.”
What is something you would do over and differently? “I would have spent more time with my children, especially when they were little. I would not have been such a workaholic. I would have played with them more.”
What are things people will never find out about you? “Not much — I’m a real talker and share often more than my family is comfortable with.”
One of the nicest comments anyone ever said about you? “Our son Andrew told me I am not afraid to listen to different ideas and am open to growing constantly.”