Giving back comes naturally for Sapulpa woman with over six decades of volunteerism

A community like ours is defined by its dedicated workers, good Samaritans, thoughtful neighbors, and selfless leaders—those uncommon folk who keep the wheels of efficiency turning and who care enough to do more than is required of them.

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Ms. Willie Garvin is one such person. A native of Sparta, Tennessee (“middle Tennessee…between Knoxville and Nashville”), over sixty years ago, Garvin, fresh out of business school in Nashville, accompanied her uncle and cousin to their home in Sapulpa for what was intended to be a short visit. Instead, she became enmeshed in the community, met and married her husband, had three sons, and has been here ever since. 

Willie Garvin. Photo from Eastern Oklahoma Catholic Magazine.

Her southern parlance surfaces as she recalls her start in what would be the overall theme of her life’s work—seeing a need and helping to fill the gap with her time, compassion, skillset, and enthusiasm. 

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“It so happened they needed a secretary at the First United Methodist Church,” where she already attended alongside her family. So “I talked to [the pastor] and got the job….After I’d been there for a while, one of the teachers I went to church with told me how badly they needed help at that time, and said that I could volunteer at [South Heights Elementary School]. ‘We need volunteers. We have a little boy in a wheelchair who is blind and he needs seein’ about.’ I just went out to the school 2-3 days a week, helped him, got to know the teachers and principal, and did that for a while.” She also helped set up school libraries during the summer, sometimes working at up to two locations at a time.

Eventually, Sapulpa Public Schools began to hire teachers’ aids. “So I told the principal ‘I’d love to do that.’ He said, ‘I already turned your name in—we think a lot of you, and you do a lot to help.’ I had helped so much as a volunteer that the teachers could ask me to do things. I was there and available and helped in any way I could. I was out on the playground, did bus duty, ran copies, fixed things…the kids would get splinters and they’d come to me to get them out…You know, just odds and ends things, and that’s how I started working in the school system at the same school for 18 years.” 

When her boys were going into high school, Garvin was ready for a new challenge. She left South Heights and “started volunteering at the Sapulpa Historical Museum and the Salvation Army—quite a bit of that kind of stuff.” 

“After I did that for a while, I started my latest thing, volunteering at the hospital. I’ve done that since 1996. I really enjoy it…seeing people…I worked upstairs [at one point] and downstairs for a while, at the west entrance, where people come in to go to the lab or to physical therapy. Sometimes I’ll wheel them upstairs wherever they need to go if they can’t walk up there.”

“I live alone now. I lost my husband several years ago. That’s another reason why I had to keep busy. I always tell people who lose anyone, especially a mate, ‘Keep busy and try to stay motivated.’”

Taking her own advice, she says, “Also, church-wise, I serve on a few committees. For a while I’ve been chair of the bereavement committee. We serve meals on the day of a funeral. I like serving, I always have. I like to be involved. I still belong to the museum and I’m still very active in the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.”

“I don’t regret anything I’ve done. When I run across people I’ve met, I like keeping up with them. One day when I was working at the hospital, there was a lady who came in and she said, ‘I think I know you.’ Sure enough…she was one of my little students [from South Heights]. She said, ‘You know what I remember more about you than anything? When we used to come into the library and you sat in that little chair and we’d sit around—you read the best stories.’ I hugged her and told her, ‘You made my day!’ I’d try to pick books the kids would want to hear. The principal would say, ‘You read those characters where they come alive!’ I had no training, it just came naturally.” 

At the suggestion that she is a “Jill of All Trades,” she objects. “Not really, not really. Not more than anyone else…A lot of people do [this kind of work]. I don’t think I’ve done all that much. We have some excellent people who are helping us at the hospital…we used to call ourselves the Pink Ladies, the helpers at the hospital, but because of age and things, we’ve dwindled out. Those of us that are left are trying to fill in as much time as we can.”

Though Ms. Garvin says she’s recently “been through a sick spell” and hasn’t been to work at the hospital for a month, she intends to bounce right back. “I want to give myself a week or two [longer] so I can get a little stronger. I enjoy what I’m doing. It’s not a whole lot, but it keeps me busy. As long as I can, I plan to continue.”