by Deb Seminary

In Mary Tello-Pool’s basement are two file cabinets dedicated to every event she has worked on since the 1970s. “I can go back to a Holiday Home Walk from 1984, tell you what the theme was, who the chairs were, even what food we had,” she said. “When anyone needs to find out anything from the past, they say, ‘Call Mary and tell her to look it up’!”

Mary’s volunteering hobby officially began was when she was 14 and started as a candy striper at what was then the Bismarck Hospital. “I remember how exciting it was when I reached the 50 hour mark and received my cap,” she said. “The next milestone was 200 hours when we earned a gold pin to wear on our pinafores. The best thing that came out of that was caring for patients and learning skills that directed me toward the nursing profession.”

In college she volunteered in nursing homes entertaining the residents and doing their hair and nails. “The majority of my college life was studying, so the volunteering was a stress reliever and continues to be to this day,” Mary said. “Volunteering is a lot of work and can be stressful, but it is a different stress. And, it’s fun, because usually you are doing it with your girlfriends!”

After nursing school Mary came back to Bismarck and started working at Bismarck Hospital. She volunteered with events in the community where she could utilize her nursing skills. Once she got married and started having children, the focus of her volunteering shifted to them and whatever they were involved with. However, she was fortunate to be able to stay active in some of her other volunteer activities.

“My daughters started going to meetings with me when they were babies and as they grew up, they worked alongside me stuffing envelopes, hostessing, selling pop, whatever came up,” said Mary. “It was just a normal part of growing up for them. I told my girls, volunteering is a gift you give to the community, because your community provides you with many gifts every day. It is everyone’s obligation to give back to the community in which they live.”

Mary has served on numerous boards over the years, but there are some organizations she is particularly passionate about. “Thirty two years ago I was asked to bake cookies for a membership gathering of what was going to become the Bismarck Mandan Symphony League,” she explained. “I became a member and still am, to this day. It is one of my favorite organizations to volunteer for.”

Mary has been married to Duane Pool for thirteen years; they actually met at a fundraiser. Mary was not interested in dating at the time, but after he called the house several times, her daughter finally convinced her to start dating again. “I was very fortunate to find a husband who not only supports my volunteering, but volunteers himself,” she said. “Our wedding was a fundraiser. We had a friendly competition – Duane’s wedding guests were raising money for Ducks Unlimited and mine were raising money for the Symphony. My team won!”

As her girls moved on to college and Mary had a little more time on her hands, she thought about her passions and looked at the Red Cross. “I inquired what their needs were and sixteen years later, I am still a volunteer with them,” she said. “I have served in many capacities with the Red Cross, including as a member of their disaster action team and the Red Cross Nurse Corps.”

She recalled one particular Christmas: “I got a call about a family who had recently moved here, that had just lost their trailer in a fire,” she explained. “They lost everything, even their holiday gifts. We were able to get them a nice suite at a local hotel and Target donated a gorgeous tree decorated with snowmen. My girlfriend network got some gifts together and my husband and I delivered everything to them. As we were leaving the little girl came up to me and said her mom had lost her snowman collection in the fire. It was very touching and it made me realize how much impact one person can have. I didn’t pay for the tree or the gifts, all I gave was time.”

Mary shared another story: “Another group I’m involved with became aware that the Carrie’s Kids organization was looking for prom dresses for girls. In about a week, after a few phone calls, we had a dinner scheduled and over 100 people attended. We collected over 100 dresses, shoes, jewelry, nail and hair care and limo rides for these girls. Never underestimate the power of the girlfriend network. If we can do something like that in that short amount of time, we can do anything. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it.”

Mary offer these suggestions to someone who is interested in volunteering:
Identify what matters to you – what are you passionate about
Identify a need in the community
Know your strengths and weaknesses, skills and talents
Know your limitations