Dorothy “Dotty” McDonald, this month’s Hometown Hero, is a hard-working volunteer who doesn’t believe in worrying about anything.
Pastor Dennis Hanson of Trinity Lutheran Church reflects on McDonald: “Dorothy has fought through many of life’s battles as a tough trooper.”
“Five years ago she was given just a few months to live from cancer. She thanked the doctor for the information, and went home to go on with her life, no different than if the doctor had told her the time of day,” Hanson says.
“Dorothy has been the mainstay when we had the Saturday night services. She came early to set up, and was the last one to leave. She greeted each rotating preacher with a big smile and said, ‘Well, honey, what order of services are we using tonight?’
“She keeps on going, and says, ‘Why should I worry about anything. The Lord will take care of me.’”
McDonald has been a hard worker several days a week at the community thrift store for 26 years.
“Dotty is a little spitfire,” says Tandi Roberts, the thrift shop manager. “She has no problem telling you how it is, no beating around the bush, no candy coating. It’s so refreshing.
“She cares about everyone, and is a treasure to behold. When I grow up, I want to be more like Dotty,” Roberts says.
McDonald is all of 4 feet 11 inches tall and is a powerhouse. Seated at a long table at one of her places of volunteering, she is full of laughter, and one of her favorite things to laugh at is herself.
“My faith in God and humor keep me from worrying about anything,” she says.
She can find humor in just about any situation.
“When I was volunteering at the old community senior thrift under the Bayview mini mall where the Mexican restaurant is, I had a little embarrassing problem, where I had to run to the restroom in a hurry. One time I got to the restroom too late,” she starts to laugh.
“So I opened the door a crack and stuck my head out and yelled out to one of my volunteer friends, Sophia, ‘Sophie, I need all new clothes!’
“She brought some over, and we both started laughing out loud.”
Another time, when she was working as a manager at a restaurant, she was training a new girl. As McDonald bent down to pick up something, the new girl accidently spilled a whole bowl of Thousand Island dressing on her.
She laughs, and says “Why honey, I had dressing dripping from my head, in my dress, down to my shoes, I started to laugh so hard that all around me began to laugh too.”
McDonald grew up in Spokane. Her mother passed away when she was 18.
“Mom left a lasting impression on me,” she says. “She was sick much of the time and in a lot of pain, but she always, when able, helped other people.” McDonald married Virgil, and along with their four children, they moved to Puget Sound for work.
Like the other famous “Dorothy” of the 1930s, they headed for the “Emerald City” (Seattle) to see what lay over the rainbow.
Soon after moving, Virgil suffered from an industrial accident at work, which left McDonald the lone breadwinner for the family of six. Virgil went in for surgery, but something went wrong and he lost his mind.
She tried to keep him at home, but ultimately had to let him go to a sanitarium. She volunteered and visited with him several days a week until the doctors said he could come home.
He still was never again able to make decisions or understand most things until he passed away at home.
“It was a rough, rough time, as I look back,” she says. “But I didn’t think about it then. I just worked and did what I had to do.
“You see, honey, the world doesn’t owe me a living. I am here to help others.”
She continued waiting tables at a restaurant in the daytime while the kids were at school, and then, when they were asleep, she worked at a bakery. She says she liked restaurant work. She must have. She worked at it for 32 years.
In the mid-1970s, McDonald met and married Neil. He was not gifted at repairing the house, or car, so McDonald learned how to fix everything herself.
She and Neil loved to fish on their modest old fishing boat, which McDonald kept in fine condition. Their cat and dog always went with them.
One time while docked at the Canadian side of Puget Sound, they noticed a man looking forlorn, sitting shaking his head on the docks.
Her husband Neil asked the man what was wrong, and he said his boat wouldn’t start because of a cracked block. To make matters worse, no one was available to work on it for another two weeks.
Neil offered a hand, saying, “You want my wife to fix it for you?”
So Dotty crawled down the engine hull with her mechanic’s bag and “Marine Tex” kit in hand and came out 12 hours later, saying, “She’s ready to go.”
Neil was a good man, she says, but he started to drink a lot.
“It was a difficult life, but I kept on doing what I had to do, and kept praying he would stop drinking and go to church with me one day,” she recalls. “In 1990 Neil woke up and said he was tired of the way he was living. He asked me what to do.
“I said what you’re going to do is stop drinking, and I am going to get you well with good food and vitamins. He began to feel good, and started going to church with me, and became a believer,” she smiles. “It was wonderful.”
Neil passed away in 2000, and her son, Chris, now lives with her in a trailer near her home.
“Chris was a rigger in shipyards, and it just tore up his body. Now he is very limited as to what he can do. He has had a real spell of it, with his spine and all,” she says. “He knows how to fix anything, but physically he just can’t anymore.”
She tells him not to worry, keep faith and laugh a lot.
“Worry won’t add one moment to our lives, and is destructive to our mind and body. Life is very difficult much of the time, but worrying will only make it worse. So crowd worry out of your mind, and fill that space with prayer and peace no matter what the circumstances.”
Contributing writer Don Dils contributed to this story.
Born: Dec. 16, 1922 in Spokane.
Education: North Central High School.
Family: Four children, Kathy, Sue,Jean, Chris; 10 grandchildren and 10 great–grandchildren.
Years on Whidbey: 35.
A few South Whidbey people you admire?
“All the pastors at Trinity church, and Tandi Roberts, the manager at Community Thrift, along with all of the people I get to volunteer alongside with there.”
What is something many don’t know about you?
“I have raised bees and made honey, and raised 5,000 turkeys. During mating season, we had to saddle up the hens, so the Toms wouldn’t tear their feathers off and rip up their backs.”
How do you like to be treated?
“Give it to me straight, no beating around the bush.”
What motivates you?
“Hearing of a need that I can help with.”
If you could ask God one question?
“What am I supposed to be doing now, am I doing it?”
How do you handle criticism?
“Accept their words, thank them, and then think about it.”
What would you do if you won a million dollars?
“Give it to the church. They know just where it needs to go to help the most.”
What animal is your favorite?
“Cats, they have always been so comforting to me. I used to walk my cats on a leash.”
What others have to say about Dotty McDonald
“How would I describe Dorothy? Wonderful, warm, giving woman who always pushes herself to the limits of her ability to provide support to many. She is my helper at the Owl’s luncheons twice a month. She is there 1½ hours early to help set the tables. She does this even when she isn’t feeling well. The last time, for instance, her knee was hurting her, and even though I kept telling her to sit down and take care of herself, she would remember something, jump up and do it even though she was in pain. She gets this from her years of experience as a waitress in a restaurant she owned with her husband.
Her faith is what motivates her, and I believe, keeps her going. She is one of the people who has learned that life is more than existence, and uses each day as fully as she can, taking care not only of herself, but of others as well.”
George B. Brunjes, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church
“Dorothy is a warm, caring person. We all just love her.”
Louise Edwards, fellow longtime volunteer
“She is wonderful, just a lovely person. And we sure have a lot of laughs together at the thrift store volunteering together.”
Lucy Hansen, fellow volunteer
“Dotty and I volunteer together every Wednesday and Friday at the Community Thrift store in Freeland. Although I am younger, I have a hard time keeping up with her.
She is a bona fide workhorse who still finds time to make the coffee for everyone at lunch.
It is an absolute pleasure to work with such a nice person who always has a smile for everyone.”
Debbie Starkweather, fellow volunteer
“Dorothy is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”
Sam Arrota, Community Thrift
“Dorothy is God’s disciple. She has such charm about her. She always greets you with a smile.
She is a woman about service, and always works hard. She was the principle influence of setting up the Saturday night service at church. Dorothy is a fighter, a hard worker and a joy.”
Jackie Legg, community and church volunteer
“My mom, my best friend. We are two peas in a pod, think alike and have that oh-so-wonderful German gene that lets our mouth say what we think is right. I still call her for information, cooking, recipe items as well as other things.
She is a wealth of information. She has so much common sense and is willing to share this with anyone who asks her about anything.
And she is a Jack (Jill) of all trades.
She has a heart of gold and never says, ‘I told you so,’ and I mean never. I know this for a fact.
We have had so many laughs together. There have been times when we laughed so hard we wet our pants.
Yep, I am not kidding. We do love to laugh.
One time I took our dinner out of her oven, only to turn around, and it slid right off the plate onto the floor (yep, we still ate it, five-second rule).
Geez, we laughed about that one.
She has been there for me through good times and bad. She’s the best mom and friend ever!”
Sue Chuck, McDonald’s daughter
“She is very caring and thoughtful. She does not talk about herself, she’s more interested in listening to others. She always works really hard at whatever she does.”
Ruth Royal, fellow volunteer