Ginny Mayer has a mission in her life, and though she says she comes up short every day, she tries to live by a philosophy best summed up by John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can as long as you ever can.”
Mayer says she wants to be of use at least to one person every day.
Pastor David Vergin of Langley United Methodist Church says Mayer is living her philosophy and is a quiet woman of many actions.
“She is an amazing example of the kind of commitment that can change the world. There is never any great fanfare. But from the Congo to Louisiana to Whidbey Island, she has directed her efforts toward improving the lives of other human beings,” he says.
“She’s a servant for the common good. And her quiet courage and dedication in serving others is an inspiration to all who know her.”
Donna Lee von Falkenberg-Riley, a fellow quilter, writes about Mayer’s generosity and devotion to family, community and people all over the world.
“Having worked with her, teaching school children to quilt at the fair grounds, reading letters from children requesting quilts for someone in need at the senior center or just hanging out with her on quilting day is always a delight,” she notes. “We share a love of animals. And even political discussion can be interesting; we are on opposing ends of the spectrum, but we agree on the principles of life in general.”
Mayer says one of the things that bothers her the most is negativity, or hearing bad comments about another person.
“For example, when candidates speak poorly of their opponent or opposing party,” Mayer says. “We all want to hear about the good things they will do themselves, not what bad things they think their opponent does. It seems to me we ought to all be able to discuss politics without getting upset. Don’t the majority of us want the good of all? Can’t we start there?”
Mayer is in her living room, joined by her sister, Barbara, who moved in with her two years ago. Her beloved Corgi, a rescue dog, plays with a toy on the floor.
The two sisters reminisce about when they were young — “I was a real tomboy,” Mayer says — and remember the day they decided to “freeze” the back yard just to see if they could. They laugh and tell how they let the hose run, made a dam, and then let the ponded water freeze.
These days, Mayer keeps herself busy by keeping people warm. Homemade quilts hang everywhere on walls and chairs, ready to be sent to charities, to people here on Whidbey and all over.
Mayer has made quilts for police stations, for the comfort of abused children. She’s currently making one for a local boy who has autism; his sister wrote a letter to the school and asked for a quilt. Many of her quilts go to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee Of Relief) for those in need in the U.S. and around the globe.
Recently, Mayer went to the Congo as a volunteer, teaching sewing and trade skills to poor women and young girls through a Methodist church school.
Mayer brings out some of the handmade needlepoint and hand-sewn beaded art and purses made by the women in Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The women sell them, and we teachers also take some home to sell for them, and send the money back to them,” she explains.
“It’s inspiring to watch the woman eagerly want to learn and work hard on their sewing projects. One 60-year-old woman walked alone for two weeks to get to our school. They are so thankful for what little they have, while many of us in developed countries still aren’t happy with all we think we have to have,” she says.
“It’s ironic when we volunteer, we think we are serving, but really we get so much more out of it ourselves,” she adds.
“I asked the Congo people at the school if it would be more helpful to them if I sent all the money it costs to travel there, instead of coming to teach,” Mayer recalls.
She was told that it was too important for her to come in person and teach; the visits gives those in the Congo some hope that people care enough to pay and come to their aid. Teachers, they said, were needed desperately.
Another recent volunteer trip for Mayer was to UMCOR’s Sager-Brown Methodist Church warehouse school in Baldwin, La.
The school, named Sager Brown after its two founders, was originally built in 1867 just after the Civil War. It has housed orphans and has been owned by the Methodist church since 1900. When it was no longer needed for an orphanage, it was used for a school, and then for relief work.
Mayer says, “We put together school bags, health kits, and quilts for the needy in the U.S. and to other parts of the world. This particular batch of school supplies we were making were for children in the state of Georgia. Before items went out, we held hands and blessed them and the children that will be using them,” she recalls.
Her volunteerism isn’t limited to sewing; she also volunteers with gardening and meal programs.
Her goal is to help wherever she is needed. She talks about the programs through the church that also feed the orphaned children living on the streets in Zimbabwe.
“It’s so sad,” she says, “So many young children are orphaned due to their parents not being able to care for them, or the parents died of AIDS, or many from war,” she says.
Mayer doesn’t limit her volunteering to humans. She’s also interested in rescue dogs, and stores carts for disabled dogs for her daughter’s dog-cart project.
Mayer, along with her husband Bill, raised five girls. Bill passed away in 2002.
“Bill always said five girls is better than five boys. We enjoyed the girls, but looking back, I wish I had spent even more time with them. There always seemed to be so much to do,” she says. “If I would have any advice for mothers, I would say spending time with your children is the most important thing you can do.”
Many in the community, though, are grateful for the time Mayer has shared.
Donna Jackman, a local volunteer, writes, “I have known Virginia Mayer for over 15 years, and she is the most talented, generous lady I have known. She gives so much of her time to charity organizations near and far, and supports many local groups.
“Ginny’s there for local babies in need, or helping out in an African orphanage; wherever there is a need, she is there helping. She is what I would call a devoted, solid Christian lady, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother — a person of few words, and many, many actions.”
Mayer says, “I want to do everything I am able to do to help others; for me that is the only reason for being alive.”
Virginia “Ginny” Knox Mayer
Born: June 29, 1929 in Indianapolis, Ind.
Family: Two older sisters, Barbara and Midge. She married William (Bill) Mayer (1925-2002) on June 23, 1951. They had five girls: Susan, Barbara, Sally, Betsy, Debby. She now has 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Education: Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, Ind.; degree in mathematics from Purdue University.
Years on Whidbey: Weekends and summers since 1957; full-time resident for 25 years.
Hobbies: Swing, quilting, reading, traveling, walking, camping, fishing, walking Sammy the dog.
Five South Whidbey people you admire?
Sharon Giberson, Mary Vergin, Janet Steadman, Kemmit George and Arta Sanstrom.
Who inspired you?
“Personally my grandmother, as she modeled making quilts for charity and taught me how to sew. Also, reading stories about people that give their lives to help others. Like the man that spent all of his earned money to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and volunteers his time there to teach.
Hardest thing you have had to do?
“Take my husband Bill off life support. It’s so hard to lose our spouse, but grieving classes at Whidbey General helped.”
What bores you?
“TV. I don’t understand why people watch it.”
If you could ask God one question today, what would it be?
“Why are there so many natural disasters, and why do some people do such terrible things to others?”
What is something hardly anyone knows about you?
“Probably how insecure I have always felt.”
What do you wish you could change about yourself?
“For one thing, my shyness. I think I could help more people if I weren’t so shy.”
Advice for people to live by?
“One Sunday many years ago, the minister preached on reading proverbs everyday. I took his advice, and it really does make a difference to read proverbs daily.”
After raising your children, what were you surprised about?
“That our two twin girls talk about their childhood like they were raised in totally different families.”
What others have to say about Ginny Mayer
“Ginny Mayer is a woman of few words and many actions. She’s my staff parish buddy, Ginny doesn’t do anything halfway. Like going to Africa to volunteer personally, after sewing and quilting and volunteering to make projects to help the needy. I don’t even know half of what Ginny does.”
Kathy Fox, organist at Langley United Methodist Church
“I have known Ginny Mayer since my childhood spending summers on Sunlight Beach. She has been a stellar neighbor and friend to all. Having served many years on our local water board, she knows practically everyone. In a sense, she is an unofficial neighborhood watch person. Ginny is a great admirer and supporter of our local community who is always willing to lend a helping hand. She is a talented quilt maker, cookie baker and active in her church.”
Coyla Shepard, longtime friend and neighbor
“She is an amazing lady, someone you can count on. She never gives up and does what is needed to do. Her dog had an operation and could not go up/down the house stairs — she carried him (heavy) up and down so he could still go outside and enjoy himself. I admire that she has many passions. I have learned that it’s never too late to learn and grow and keep up with the times (computers, etc.). She’s the salt of the earth.”
Vanessa Radford, volunteer
“We first met 20 years ago at the Christian Women’s Club luncheon. Ginny was one of the officers. Ginny and I took turns holding the gatherings in our homes. At one of the studies, I was concerned about a situation at home — my elderly mother moved in with us. After our group prayed together, Ginny said, ‘Why don’t you retire!’ The best advice I could have received at the time. I retired. Bless Ginny’s heart. She has encouraged me and blessed me with her friendship and wise counsel ever since.”
Sharon Giberson, soup kitchen volunteer
“Ginny has been active church member, of the Sanctuary Guild and the Nursery Roll. As a member of the Nursery Roll, she has made sure that every new baby born to our church family was given a baby quilt that she herself has made. She helped many of us make our Centennial Quilt, which is hanging at church. She recently helped us make school bags for the United Methodist Commission on Relief. I cannot say enough about her good nature. She is a faithful sister to her sister Barbara.”
Irene Bullock, LUMC church administrator
“I really enjoy spending time with Ginny. Ginny is a person who lives her faith with her heart and hands. She is grounded in her Christian beliefs, yet very open-minded, down-to- earth and full of fun. Ginny is a one-of-a-kind Hometown Hero.”
Mary Vergin, Program Associate at LUMC
“I am one of the ladies who went to the Congo with Ginny and we were roommates. Ginny kept us entertained with all her stories, good humor and good attitude. She was an inspiration at her age, to be undertaking a mission to teach sewing to our sweet Congo Mamas. She was always talking about her daughters and family members. She even got a dose of malaria while there, but soon recovered. I’d have to add brave to her attributes.”
Susan Gimmestad, fellow Congo volunteer
“Upon arriving at Whidbey Island to our new home, Ginny took me under her wing and introduced me to everyone in the area, made sure I was always invited everywhere, but she especially introduced me to quilting. Through her great patience and encouragement, she taught me all the wonderful skills needed in quilting, so that now I have even won a few ribbons for my quilts. She has always been there for me, and her patience is her most wonderful quality.”
Betty Johnson, longtime neighbor of Ginny’s
“Mom has always amazed me, and now, at 81, she continues to amaze with her activity and community involvement. She is a member of Quilters on the Rock, PEO, drives people to appointments, delivers meals and goes on mission trips. She makes quilts to donate to returning wounded soldiers, to sick friends and to benefit her canine cause. Her home is always open to any of us five children or her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is easily the most generous and active person that I know.”
Barb “Bobbie” Mayer, one of Ginny’s five daughters
“Ginny has always been reliable, cooperative, and willing to help, and have work parties at her home. There were many times at her home, making quilts for babies in need. Ginny donates her time in this community, and wherever there is a need.”
Margaret Race, fellow quilter and volunteer