In 1955, Marilyn Himmel began teaching fifth grade right out of college.
It wasn’t her first choice for a job. But, as fate would have it, it was one that remained close to her heart until she retired 41 years later. And although she’s been retired for 20 years, Himmel, 84, lets no grass grow under her feet. She ventures from her home at Windsor Park Covenant retirement community in Carol Stream to volunteer her time every week to help those less fortunate.
As a Christian education and education major at Wheaton College, Himmel planned for a career as director of Christian education at a church. But after her required student teaching, which she did at Wheaton Christian Grammar School, she was offered a fifth-grade teaching position.
“I loved it,” said Himmel, who introduced ecology to her students before it became a buzzword.
She said she enjoyed helping students understand and appreciate the outdoors.
“I taught most subjects, but natural science was my specialty,” the Havana, Ill., native said.
Himmel had her students write reports on trees, make leaf collections and identify 40 birds, all of which are still part of the school’s curriculum. She also got her students involved in a three-day outdoor education program at the Morton Arboretum where they learned about wetlands, prairies and forests, and went birdwatching every morning before breakfast.
“What I appreciate is that, in meeting my students now, they almost invariably remember the bird they reported on, or they’re teaching their children about birds, or they and their husband are birders," Himmel said. "They learned to appreciate nature – God’s creation – and to teach others."
Himmel’s love of children has continued well into her 80s, and she continues to contribute to their well-being by volunteering.
Himmel is one of the recipients of Suburban Life Media's Everyday Heroes awards.
For the past 17 years, she has spent two days each week at Repeat Boutique, a ministry that donates clothes, housewares and toys to the homeless, immigrants and refugees who have just arrived in the United States. Himmel runs the toy room, where she sifts through barrels of donated toys, making sure they are safe and clean and have no missing pieces before shelving them.
“I like doing toys,” Himmel said. “I keep a supply of fresh batteries and little people for doll houses and balls and other things. Some who come in have just arrived in the country, and they don’t really have anything. They’re so happy to get clothing, and the kids’ eyes bug out when they see toys that they can have.”
Himmel recalled the story of a little boy who came into the boutique with his family and was told he could have a ball he admired.
“He said, ‘I can’t. We don’t have a house. We sleep in the car,’” Himmel said. “That touches you.”
She said the vast majority of people who come into the boutique are genuinely appreciative of the help they receive.
“It makes me want to keep on with it, even though we’re all tired when we leave,” Himmel said. “We know it’s worth it. We show God’s love that way by helping others.”
Himmel, a self-proclaimed birder, still likes to walk and occasionally rides her bike when she’s not giving her time to others.
“Volunteering keeps you active and feeling you still have something to give, instead of sitting around or doing something for yourself," she said.