When the leadership of the DeForest Area Community and Senior Center debated who deserved the top volunteer award, the choice was easy. It picked Marian Drake of Windsor, a longtime board member.
The next decision was tougher; is she the volunteer of the month, a year, or even a decade. They decided people like Marian Drake are truly rare and they named her Volunteer of the Century.
She received her award last week with her husband of 68-years, Francis, at her side. They were dressed for the occasion, but Marian joked she should have left her gardening pants on and chipped in with the center’s flower beds.
Marian Drake was still in the parent/teacher conference years when high school teacher and community leader Karen Womack recruited her to serve in the post, beginning in 1988.
The Community and Senior Center is located at the north end of DeForest’s Main Street, but it is a joint venture of DeForest, Windsor, and the Town of Vienna. Drake’s 34 years of service saw the construction of the current center, program expansions, and changes as the community changed.
The center remained a symbol of cooperation through times when relations between DeForest and Windsor were strained. “Sometimes, compromise was a little difficult, especially with Windsor and DeForest. That didn’t last terribly long because decisions were made for the whole group of seniors coming here. Working together gives the center enough people to make programs worthwhile,” Marian Drake said.
Marian said programming grew as the center did. “At the beginning, some of the programs were not well attended. I was in a furniture refinishing class and the center gave us space to do it in,” she said. “We brought in a piece of furniture and followed the instructor’s lesson and some of them turned out quite lovely. We were working on a dirt floor so we didn’t have to worry about cleaning up after the class.”
Volunteer and board member are titles Marian has always worn together. She remembered a time before parcel pickup and similar services when volunteers would work together to fill grocery orders for homebound seniors.
“We had a group for those willing to shop for groceries for the people living in the apartments. We would get three or four orders at once.”
Marian is from St. Paul, Minn. and Francis hails from Sauk City. He was working for General Telephone (GTE) in the engineering side of the operation when they moved to Windsor in 1977. He worked for the University of Wisconsin after the couple moved to Windsor.
“We didn’t want to live [in Sun Prairie] and the realtor wanted to show us a place in Windsor,” Marian said. “We never heard of Windsor [before the showing]. I said I don’t know where it is, but we decided it was a good fit.”
The couple still lives in the Lake Windsor area of the village. Marian said the neighborhood was already fairly well developed when they arrived. She said she did a lot of walking in the neighborhood in past years.
Marian’s love of gardening led to her being a vendor at the Farmers Market selling vegetables and flowers. “She put in a lot of time and early mornings down on the Square,” Francis said.
Marian was the third vendor ever at the Sun Prairie farmers market, starting there in 1988. She was also part of the Dane County farmers market at the capitol.
Windsor Village President Bob Wipperfurth was one of the speakers at the recognition event. He said a television reporter once called him on the eve of a British royal wedding and asked him to compare the kingdom ruled by Windsor with the community he led. He said the royalty in his community were the people, neighbors like Marian Drake. Marian answered the praise by telling the group the couple clears confusion in their names by saying she is Maid Marian who married Sir Francis Drake.
The public staff greetings from Marian’s reception included The Ramesch, a 12-year staff veteran, and Cindy Browning, who took the role of executive director in 2022. They praised her leadership on projects like the building construction, her passion for serving the community, and her friendly manner of being there on the board and as a volunteer.
Marian’s recognitions recently included a plaque from the governor’s office and a resolution of appreciation from the Windsor Village Board. The Windsor resolution reads, “WHEREAS, the Village Board acknowledges and extends gratitude to Marian Drake for her dedicated service to the Joint Community and Senior Center Commission and the Half Century Club; and WHEREAS, Marian Drake has been active with the Community & Senior Center from the very beginning; and WHEREAS, the original building was constructed in 1984 and Marian was at the ground breaking ceremony with shovel in hand; and WHEREAS, Marian was on the Board in 2006 when a 3,700 sq. ft. addition was constructed, in 2013 when the house on CTH V was purchased, in 2015 when the UW Health Clinic was purchased and has been active in the future expansion planning discussions; and WHEREAS, Marian truly cared for the people at the Community and Senior Center, the users, the staff and the volunteers; and WHEREAS, Marian has shown her dedication to the Community and Senior Center through giving of her time and by giving financially. NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Village Board of the Village of Windsor extends a heartfelt thank you to Marian Drake for her many years of service to the Community and Senior Center as a Village of Windsor representative.
Marian and Francis Drake met at Lakeland University in Sheboygan. He was attending the school’s engineering program on the G.I. Bill.
“It was an opportunity,” he said the University of Wisconsin campus was filled with veterans after World War II and the same cycle repeated after the Korean War. “We met at Lakeland College and pretty soon here we are,” Francis said with a twinkle in his eye.
Francis is a member of the Sun Prairie Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9362. He recently received a Quilt of Valor through the organization in appreciation of his service with the United States Marine Corps in the Korean War. He said 27 post members got the personalized quilts.
The Sugar River Quilters of Belleville have sewn a total of 940 quilts with the 300,000th in the U.S. this year. The Quilts of Valor Foundation was founded in 2014 when a mother had a dream of a quilt comforting a service member or veteran.
Francis said it was the best honor he’d received since traveling to Washington D.C. with the Badger Honor Flight a few years ago.
A portion of that flight was featured on CSPAN as former Senator Bob Dole, a World War II wounded combat veteran, was the leader behind the effort to build the World War II veterans memorial on the Mall. Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, would make the short trip from their D.C. home to greet honor flight veterans at the memorial.
Francis remembers walking to the state capitol on a cold day in January 1951 to enlist at the Marine Corps recruiting office.
He said the initial hope in Korea was to be home before Christmas. He was there for war’s second winter on the peninsula.