You won’t find Lawrence resident Mary Gauthier sitting back and relaxing during her retirement. At age 89, she’s a go-getter.
Besides taking care of her east Lawrence home, she volunteers at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church and the Trinity Interfaith Food Pantry. She goes to aerobics. She cheers on her neighbor’s volleyball team. She travels. She frequently gets together with old friends and enjoys making new friends.
“I hope I’m like her when I get to be her age,” said Janice Johnson White, a longtime friend. “She’s just so full of energy. She’s very, very positive. She’s always involved in something.”
Gauthier, who grew up in Corning, Iowa, with five brothers — two older and three younger — credits her parents for her giving ways. She said her father was editor of the local weekly newspaper, the Adams County Free Press, and he received the Rotarian’s coveted Service Above Self Award.
“My mom and dad lived that and we just absorbed it,” Gauthier said.
While she’s modest about her volunteerism, her friends and church family said she does so much that it’s hard to keep track.
The Rev. John Schmeidler, of St. John’s church, said Gauthier helps sort items at the church’s rummage house and volunteers to help with a variety of youth programs. She has served on the pastoral council and has taken communion to the home bound.
He said Gauthier reminds him of the “Star Wars” character Yoda.
“To me, she’s a wisdom figure who helps to pass along the faith to anybody she meets and she’s just present to the people who are here and she helps build community by doing all of that,” he said.
Schmeidler, who sees Gauthier at Mass daily, said she’s beloved by the community because of her energy, wit and sense of humor. “She connects with everybody,” he said.
She’s also tech savvy. Her friends call her a Facebook junkie, which makes her laugh.
“Let me defend myself,” she said with laughter and then explained that she uses the social media website to connect with her dozens of nieces and nephews and former students.
From 1959 to 1986, Gauthier taught about 600 students as coordinator of the office education program at Lawrence High School.
“I had the best job in the world,” she said. Besides teaching business classes, she connected high school seniors with part-time jobs. Many of her students went on to lead successful business careers. One of them is Janice Johnson White, who works as human resources manager at the Douglas County Visiting Nurses Association.
Johnson White said she started working at the VNA during the summer before her senior year. It went so well that her employer wanted her to come back as part of the LHS on-the-job-training program that Gauthier managed.
“Mary was uncomfortable with me doing this initially because VNA had only been open a little over a year. We were a not-for-profit and they could only promise me three hours of work a day,” Johnson White said, adding the school requirement was four hours. She said Gauthier agreed to it but she had to make up the extra hour elsewhere.
“Nowadays, she and I have joked frequently about that because I’ve been here since May of 1970. I’ve been here almost 42 years,” Johnson White said.
The two are Facebook friends and go out to lunch or dinner periodically. She considers Gauthier a terrific teacher, mentor and friend.
“Anticipating that I would have a friend for life in a teacher that I had, I guess was not something I thought would ever happen, but it did,” she said. “Mary’s really a hoot. She’s just fun.”
During an interview at her home, Gauthier talked about topics ranging from her upbringing around the newspaper business to teaching to Tweeting. She was open and honest and frequently poked fun at herself. Her laugh was contagious.
She never married or had children. “Enough’s enough,” she said with laughter, of growing up with brothers. Then she said, “When I moved to Lawrence I thought I might meet someone. I’ve met plenty of guys. My problem is they become good friends and not husbands.”
As for children, she said her 20 nieces and nephews, hundreds of former students and church family fill that void.
Then, the Iowa native told the tale of how she landed in Lawrence.
She had been a business teacher at a high school in Corning, Iowa, for six years when the principal informed her of the job opening at LHS.
“He said, ‘You can’t turn this down. You have to go,’” she recalled. She said she was content where she was and almost didn’t apply for the job. But, she did.
“Look what I would have missed. It has been nothing but a blessing all the way around,” she said. “The Lord just plunked me here, and it’s been wonderful.”