A great American has passed away.
You're not likely to read about it in tomorrow's newspaper or see it mentioned on television or hear about it on the radio. By most any definition she was not famous. She was not a captain of industry nor was she a world leader or an elected official. She was, instead—and in most every way—an average American—and therein was her greatness found.
Mary Rhoades lived her life for the benefit of others. When we first met she was working as a volunteer with a church youth group, helping young people explore and understand their faith as they moved from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to young adulthood. She was a valuable presence, a role model who loved the children with whom she worked as if they were her own. Indeed to Mary they were her own. She treasured the responsibility and the relationships she built with them—and they with her. The energy she expended led literally to the transformation of lives.
She was a powerful and loving presence on Sundays and on Saturday nights and on Wednesdays, whenever the church youth group would gather for Bible study or fellowship. She liked people and people liked being around her because her enthusiasm was infectious.
If that were not enough, after several years of working with the youth she felt God leading her in a new direction. Mary took up the difficult challenge of working with unwed teen moms at the local high school. She threw herself into her new ministry with the same vigor as she did everything else, hosting baby showers and other activities that provided support to these young girls—and in some cases the fathers as well—helping them to feel they were not alone. It was quite something to see, the way in which she embraced these young moms and let them know that, while the future might be difficult, everything could nonetheless work out all right because the love of the highest power in the universe could make it so.
As someone said, "American is a great country full of good people who sometimes do amazing things." While not an epitaph it is certainly an apt description of what Mary Rhoades was able to accomplish in her all too short life. She may not have been famous but her impact will be felt for years to come. Her passing is worthy of remark therefore because it is in people like her that the greatness of this nation can be found. As Alexis de Tocqueville discovered almost two centuries ago, it is the spirit of volunteerism that runs deep through the national consciousness, a love of country and a love of each other, rooted in faith that made America what she is. America needs more people like her, perhaps more now than in years passed. People who understand the key to life is love.