July 11, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
You won''t hear Vergie Gee boast about it, but the fact remains the 89-year-old Columbus woman has done more for Alzheimer''s research in the past several years with her delicate and careful stitches than most people will ever know.
Her donations of a handmade quilt and beautifully embroidered aprons, pillow cases and towels to the local chapter of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees have generated several thousand dollars toward research through auctions and raffles. NARFE is recognized by the Alzheimer''s Association as one of their larger contributors; all chapters combined have donated more than $8 million dollars for this worthy effort since 1985, according to local member Bobbie Page.
The cause has a personal connection for Gee. She has a sister and several friends who struggle with the affects of the progressive disease.
On Wednesday, the octogenarian''s friends in NARFE surprised her with an honorary membership and a Distinguished Service award from the Region III vice president, Bob Harrell. It had Mrs. Vergie near tears.
"Oh, honey, I wanted to cry when they did that generous thing for me," she said. "I was so shocked and surprised! I wasn''t expecting it; they''ve just all been so sweet." For those who admire her, it was simply a way to pay tribute to a giving spirit and an influential example of "can do" attitude that defies any calendar.
Page and Gee have been dear friends since working together at The Fashion Barn in Columbus many years ago.
"We just clicked on that very first day," Gee, a former 20-year employee, shared. So it was out of genuine friendship that she happily contributed that first hand-crafted quilt when Page and NARFE chapter 1388 got serious about supporting Alzheimer''s research.
"We raised nearly $2,000 from raffle sales of the quilt, and that was just the beginning of what was to come," Page said. Gee would continue to periodically call Page with items to help the cause. By raffling her embroidered donations at state conventions, more money was raised for research.
She also avidly supported the chapter''s semi-annual carport sales to benefit the Alzheimer''s Association, as a contributor of salable items and a customer.
"She was a pure delight at carport sales," Page smiled. "She''d always find something she just had to have. ... I think the biggest thrill for Vergie was getting her lift chair. She''d told me she wanted one so bad, so when a friend gave us one practically new for our sale, I called her; she came right over and tried it out. ... She tells me how much she loves that lift chair."
Giving is nothing new for Gee, who will celebrate her 90th birthday in November. She has donated quilts to St. Jude Children''s Research Hospital and, as a respected Sunday School teacher, has been mentoring 5- and 6-year-olds at Mt. Zion Baptist Church for an astounding 60-plus years.
She laughed, "I''ve taught grandchildren of some of the children I''ve taught."
Born in Gordo, Ala., Gee made Columbus home about seven decades ago. She proudly lives alone, but is surrounded by the loving attention of her three children, 10 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Her full life has had its share of testing trials. The widow of 26 years and successfully battled cancer twice and had a knee replacement.
"But I haven''t let it get me down," she asserted. To the contrary, Gee only recently finished painting her fence, but concedes she''s had to slow down on the weed-eating.
"My feet are not very good, but my body''s OK," the vibrant senior said. "I still love to embroidery and do quilts. Right now I''ve got a baby crib quilt embroidered, and I''m fixing to quilt it. There''s no stopping any time soon.
"I know I''m lucky," she shared. "I count my blessings every day. I''ll be 90 soon ... but I haven''t retired yet."
Perhaps one of her secrets lies in her approach to life: "I just love everybody, I don''t care who it is."
Page said of her treasured friend, "Being around Vergie is like a breath of fresh air and sunshine. She has such a positive outlook on things, and she''s smiling the whole time she''s talking with you."
By Wednesday''s end, still flush with humble pleasure about the unexpected honors she received earlier in the day, Gee summed up the experience with a benediction each of us could envy:
"We just had a good day today ... it was wonderful."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.