Marde McConnell’s deep roots of volunteering seen all over Washington

Published: Feb. 6, 2022 at 11:03 PM CST
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WASHINGTON, Iowa (KCRG) - From helping to start a free weekly meal for people in need for the past 10 years, to planting or giving away 13,000 trees, Marde McConnell is working to make the town of Washington a better place.

She has deep roots in Washington, Iowa. In the 45 years that she’s spent in town, her impact is seen everywhere.

“I’ve lived in Washington for over 50 years, and I don’t know anybody who has volunteered more hours to our community than Marde,” Doug Dunlap, who nominated McConnell to be one of KCRG-TV9′s 9 Who Care, said.

McConnell is responsible for getting Washington recognized as a Tree City USA, 30 years ago.

“When we first started, we just wanted to plant trees to make Washington better, now, with all the information about the environment, it’s a bigger picture,” McConnell said.

Last year at an event, McConnell said they gave away 170 trees, knowing people had lost them from the emerald ash borer and from the derecho. Through the years she’s organized events where children can help plant trees around town, including around the schools. She says it’s something people remember.

“There’s a line of evergreen trees at Elm Grove Cemetery, and there’s a young fella, well he probably turned 40 he’s the same age as one of our daughters, and his mother says, ‘Whenever he comes home, he says, ‘Oh I remember when I was a Boy Scout and I planted those trees,” McConnell recalled.

In the span of decades, she’s secured $125,000 in grants for trees in the community, and has planted or given away over 13,000 trees.

“We’re not talking little saplings, we’re talking five or six- or seven-foot trees,” McConnell said.

McConnell is also known for starting the Saturday Kitchen tradition.

“There were hungry people in our community,” McConnell said.

It’s on hold during the pandemic, but it was hosted every single Saturday at lunchtime. McConnell said it was started 10 years ago with 12 people. Now, 80 to 100 people attend. She coordinates between 26 groups to host the lunches, from churches to 4H, to National Honor Society, to beef and pork producers.

“Not everybody comes because they’re hungry for food, some people are just hungry for companionship, they are lonely,” McConnell said.

McConnell has also been on nine mission trips to help communities after natural disasters, is a Sunday school teacher, and has donated 18 gallons of blood. But, even that’s not all she does.

“She’s trying to make this world a better place, and make this town a better place,” Dunlap said. “And she does a really good job of doing that.”

“You hope your legacy that other people will care about other people, that they’ll care about the environment, that they’ll care about just making the world a better place,” McConnell said. “The future is not what I do, the future is teaching younger people that they can do it too.”

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