At one point, Marian Paxton and her late husband, Merritt, volunteered in some way to help the Laramie community almost every day.
The Boomerang and the Laramie Lions Club 2019 winner of the Community Service Award, Marian said while thankful for the honor, she wanted to share it with her husband.
“I consider accepting this for both of us actually, I really do,” she said. “Especially commodity days, Dress a Living Doll we used to do that at a Christmas — we did a lot of things together.”
She and Merritt retired together in Laramie after living and teaching around Arlington Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. They met teaching biology at the same school and were married by the end of the school year. They ended up with four children, Kathryn, Santos, Victor and Rebecca, who currently live in Cheyenne and Casper.
After visiting Laramie and the University of Wyoming for Merritt to get the additional education needed for his teaching license, they quickly “fell in love with the area.” Had it not been for Merritt’s pension in Illinois, she said, she would’ve “moved right then.”
After spending two summers at friends’ cabins near Laramie, they purchased their own near Morgan, an old mining town, in 1972.
“Every summer but one after that until we moved here in ’86, we came out and lived here,” she said. “The kids loved it.”
Once retired in Laramie, she said the couple had the desire to get to know their community, and volunteering seemed like the best and quickest way to do it.
“We were older and even though we had kids in school, … we wanted to get acquainted because it was going to be our community,” she said.
Between the two of them, many nonprofits and lives were touched. They spent time volunteering for several groups and even served on the boards for nonprofits like Interfaith-Good Samaritan, the Salvation Army, Foster Grandparents and the Methodist Church. When they first arrived, she said, they even helped students at Slade Elementary School.
Volunteering is part of a healthy community, she said.
“If you are a community, you need to take care of each other,” Paxton said. “We have a lot of poverty in this town, and people don’t realize that.”
More than volunteering time, the Paxtons also volunteered their home and cars. Marian said even today she still gives people rides around town when they need it.
People down on their luck, foreign exchange students and foster children all found a home with Marian and Merritt. Reading a book of memories filled out by community members when Merritt passed away 21 years ago, Marian said one man they helped said, “(The Paxtons) really became, and probably not just for me but for many others, my substitute parents.”
Marian continued volunteering after Merritt passed, even traveling abroad to Africa to help orphans or Brazil for Heifer International, a global nonprofit aiming to end hunger and poverty.
As she’s getting older, she’s scaled back a bit, but that doesn’t mean she’s slowing down. She’s still involved in the Salvation Army, even now that the nonprofit no longer has a physical Laramie location. She takes care of the Christmas kettles, hauling them to and from locations and counting the donations.
“I’ll be 85 in September,” she said, “and although I’m still active, … I still am doing things with Salvation Army, I will continue to do the kettles, I work on the annual fundraiser for Interfaith and I do things like that, but I just don’t do the every day or every week now,” she said.
Ultimately through all the time volunteering, both here and abroad, one of her biggest motivations was living without fear.
“I try not to be afraid, because I think fear is a sin almost,” she said. “I try to do whatever I can.”
The Community Service Award banquet honoring Marian will be held at 1:30 p.m. June 8 at the Holiday Inn. Tickets can be purchased at the Laramie Boomerang, Western States Bank or from Laramie Lions Club members.