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Modern Woodmen name Mary Jo Kaufman a ‘Hometown Hero’

Mary Jo Kaufman displays the certificate she received from Modern Woodmen naming her a “Hometown Hero.” Photo by Gregory Dullum

Mary Jo Kaufman, who lives in the hills behind McClure, IL, says she has done “nothing hero-ish.” But our local Modern Woodmen Summit Chapter would beg to differ.

Kaufman was named a “Hometown Hero” by Modern Woodmen at the Golden Corral in Cape Girardeau Feb. 23. She was recognized for her countless hours of volunteer service to the community.

For 60 years, Kaufman has taught Sunday school at Alexander Freewill Baptist Church. “Sometimes, two generations,” she noted.
Kaufman first volunteered because “they just needed somebody to teach the kids,” she recalled. “It was a necessity.”

She created some of her own lesson plans — “for sure on Wednesday nights, I did,” she said. “Sometimes we would have lesson books but mostly we did not. We just went out of the Bible and did stories. I like to tell stories. I tried to make our lessons stories.”

When Kaufman began teaching Sunday school, her pupils were young children. “I started out with preteen and teen kids. I still work with the youth group at church now,” she added. She attends their meetings and get-togethers and usually has a story to tell.

But her Sunday School students today are adult ladies. “The ladies go in one room, the men in another room and the kids go in another room. Everyone has their own lessons,” she explained.

In addition to teaching Sunday school, Kaufman has volunteered for 37 years (along with her husband, Jack, until he passed away in 2018) helping out the Lindsey Cemetery in McClure. She helped with barbecues and other fundraisers that helped pay for the mowing and upkeep. She also sold plots.

Another area of service began in 1991 during Desert Storm. Kaufman began mailing boxes of food and supplies to U.S. soldiers serving overseas. “The church pays for it. I just box them up and mail them,” she said.

It was Kaufman’s idea — she approached the church — and the church has backed her all these years.

The soldiers selected are those known by church members. They just need to give Kaufman a shipping address. “I try always to write them a letter,” Kaufman added. “I try to do that about every two to three months. There were over 30 different soldiers we sent boxes to. Each soldier probably got three to four boxes.”

Because the soldiers have been serving in Muslim countries, there were tight restrictions on what could be sent. “Years ago, they were really restrictive. You couldn’t put anything pork in the boxes. You couldn’t put Bibles or any literature of any kind. I think they’ve eased up on that, because I do send Bibles sometimes. I haven’t gone to jail yet.”

She fills the boxes mostly with food. The favorite is beef jerky. She also sends cookies, cakes, other snacks, chewing gum and candy.

“One boy sent me a letter and said he wanted cheese. I thought, How am I going to send cheese? But I thought, If he wants cheese, he’s going to get cheese. So I went to the store and bought $58 worth of cheese.

“One time all they wanted was bug spray.”

It was hard keeping up with the soldiers if they returned to the U.S. without letting her know. So she marks the boxes, “Do not return” and hopes some other soldier enjoys the contents. When an entire camp shut down, the post office was notified and Kaufman was alerted by the Cape post office, where she mailed the packages. “Somehow they knew the group was gone,” Kaufman said.

“I’ve made friends with some of these young men,” Kaufman added. “If they are ever around town, they come to visit the church. I’m so excited when I get to meet them.”

Along with a certificate, Modern Woodmen awarded Kaufman $100 to be given to the charity of her choice. She chose Crown Hospice. Her sister, Lucille Masterson, a Jackson resident, had passed away Sept. 12 of last year, and Crown Hospice had taken care of her.

“The Hometown Hero Program allows us to thank those who give back to the community while encouraging others to volunteer,” said Rebecca Volkerding, local Modern Woodman volunteer leader.

During her acceptance speech, Kaufman said she didn’t feel like a hero; she felt more like a friend. Because she still likes to tell stories, she followed up that statement with a story about friendship.

“The [real] heroes are the veterans,” Kaufman told the CBJ. “They are the ones who need to be recognized.”

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at cashbook@mvp.net.

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