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Willa Cather Foundation - Red Cloud Nebraska (NE)

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Meet Leroy Maruhn - Our 2020 Miriam Mountford Volunteer of the Year

Meet Leroy Maruhn - Our 2020 Miriam Mountford Volunteer of the Year

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

One silver lining of 2020 was that we were able to get significant work accomplished at many of our historic sites and properties. Quietly helping us along the way was Leroy Maruhn, our 2020 Miriam Mountford Volunteer of the Year.

Leroy’s stepson Jim Owens, our sites manager since 2019, said that when Leroy started volunteering last year he was quite clear about one thing. “I don’t want anything, I don’t want anything said about me, and I just want to be in the background,” Leroy insisted.

Well, anonymity is not likely to happen in a small nonprofit like ours where we are appreciative of, and reliant upon, the generous support and good graces of others. Leroy is a humble man and another reason we wanted this to be a complete surprise to him and his wife, Janet Maruhn. Janet is Jim Owens’s mother and works as a tour guide at the National Willa Cather Center.

Jen Schriner de Jager, on our facilities team, nominated Leroy for this honor. “Leroy has been a wonderful volunteer to the team this year,” she said. “We have been able to get a lot of work done and it has been physically easier on everyone using his equipment. We are very grateful for all of his contributions.”

Leroy grew up in the Holdrege area, but spent most of his life in Red Cloud. He was a well driller for over forty years, working in Nebraska and Kansas, and was president of the Nebraska Well Drillers Association for several years.

Jim has known Leroy all of his life. He was his Sunday school teacher and in 1981, when Jim was a senior in high school, Leroy became his stepfather.

“We’ve been buddies for a long time,” Jim said. “In high school, Leroy let me use his shop to work on my cars and vehicles and one day he asked if it would be alright if I asked my mom out on a date. He’s an easy going, quiet guy and never gets riled up.”

Leroy loves working with equipment and during harvest he’ll help drive trucks in the area. He mows at the Methodist church, as a volunteer, and with his tractor he tills gardens around town.

Here at the National Willa Cather Center, Leroy has helped with all kinds of tasks: picking up appliances in Hastings, grading work at the Harling House, and loaning of his equipment. He let us borrow and personally delivered his cement mixer to various properties. The use of it enabled a new step for the north entrance at the Harling House, as well as repairs to the driveway and new footings for the porch restoration project at the Cather Second Home.

Leroy and Janet also dug up and saved the peonies at the Pavelka Farm ahead of the restoration project and transported them elsewhere while they await a spring replanting.

Leroy, as pictured, has even helped out with a Cather presentation at one of Janet’s ladies’ luncheons in Florida, where the couple spends time each winter. Because we are unable to celebrate in person until their return, the idea was hatched to surprise Leroy in our e-newsletter and on social media. So if you see Leroy around Red Cloud when he returns this spring, be sure to thank him for so many jobs well done.

In the meantime, thank you Leroy, from every one of us at the National Willa Cather Center!

About the Miriam Mountford Volunteer Award

Recognizing the importance of a strong volunteer corps, the family of Miriam Mountford established this award as a perpetual tribute to those whose selfless service is at the heart of the Willa Cather Foundation's work. Each year, we confer the Miriam Mountford Volunteer Award to recognize an individual whose service is deemed outstanding.

Mrs. Mountford, alongside founder Mildred Bennett, devised the first guided tours of Red Cloud and Catherland and was first editor of the Cather newsletter. As the first President of the Board of Governors after Mrs. Bennett, Mountford demonstrated that a grassroots endeavor could have an ongoing worldwide influence. Mrs. Mountford’s son Fritz has followed in his mother’s footsteps, actively serving our organization as a member of the Board of Governors for a number of years.