Kathleen Roberts began volunteering as a college student, taking on the job of assistant leader of a Girl Scout troop in her home town of Wellesley.
Nearly 80 years have passed since she made that first foray into volunteerism, and she is still donating her time to good causes — so many, in fact, that she was recently selected as the Massachusetts winner of the Home Instead Senior Care network’s Salute to Senior Services Award.
At 97, Roberts is chairwoman of the Raynham Council on Aging, president of the local Historical Society, board member of the Historical Commission, trustee for the Raynham Public Library, board member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Raynham Association of Volunteers in Education, founder and member of the Raynham Food Basket, and a lector at St. Ann’s Church.
“I was just floored by what Kathleen has done in her life,” Debbie Nichols, Home Instead Senior Care’s regional franchise owner, said during last week’s award presentation. “When I tried to contact her about the award, she was never home.”
Roberts, who lost two husbands to cancer and never had children, says she simply enjoys helping others. “I volunteered all my life,” she said. “I believed you should give back to your community; it enriches your life as well as others’.”
Roberts’s interest in others isn’t surprising. She spent her 47-year working career as an elementary teacher and principal, much of it in Dartmouth and Raynham schools. She retired from teaching in 1984 but has remained active in the Massachusetts Teachers Association as well as in Raynham classrooms.
At the presentation last Thursday, Bridgewater-Raynham Regional School Superintendent Jacqueline Forbes called Roberts “a great lady and dear friend,” known for her determination, generosity, and compassion.
“Kathleen simply never retired,” said School Committee chairwoman Patricia Riley. “I remember when she visited each classroom as Mrs. Claus one Christmas. The children sat there in such awe.’’
Roberts concedes that working with young children is still a favorite pastime. “I’m in school fairly often,” she said. “I . . . talk about what life was like when I was young.”
Her favorite day at the school is the annual “Read Across America” celebration, when she roams the halls in her “Cat in the Hat” suit.
Roberts is equally involved in senior efforts, such as the local Olympics she revived in 2008, working with the town’s recreation department. “I thought it would be nice for the seniors to come and have a little exercise,” she said. Her enthusiasm was contagious, prompting more than 50 local seniors to compete.
Roberts, 93 at the time of that Olympics celebration, was also among the competitors. She said she was most interested in the road race, and the baseball-throwing event. She did well in both but was a little disappointed with her ball-tossing performance. “It was shocking to me that I couldn’t throw the baseball that far, since I was a star in high school,” she said.
Always interested in local history, Roberts cochaired Raynham’s 275th anniversary celebration in 2003, for which she and her fellow chair received the town’s Citizen of the Year award.
As a teacher in the 1950s, she wrote a children’s history of Dartmouth, illustrated by her students, that is still used by that town’s third-graders during their local history unit. She is now working on a volume that will offer “glimpses” into Raynham’s history, she said.
Last Thursday, a long line of admirers spoke of her remarkable service to others.
Deborah VanderMeel, director of the Raynham Food Basket, praised Roberts for helping found the nonprofit organization in 1992 and volunteering there for the last 10 years. “She greets everyone with compassion and dignity,” VanderMeel said.
The Rev. Michael McManus, pastor of St. Ann’s, told Roberts she is “a treasure to your community, a treasure to your profession, and a treasure to St. Ann’s.”
Regarding her selection as top volunteer in the state, Roberts said many who turned out for the presentation were dear friends. “I look around and say, ‘I’m the luckiest person.’”