From planning a gala in Venezuela to signing up for three trips with the Peace Corps, volunteerism is an integral part of the lives of two women in their 80s. Mary Ann Hyde planned her very first gala in Caracas when she was 31 years old. Loretta Dunbar left Dallas to go to Africa with the Peace Corps for the first time when she was 41 years old. These remarkable residents of Presbyterian Village North retirement community were instantly hooked on helping others. They focus on people whose needs would not be met otherwise. Today both ladies are still active in volunteer work, though their projects are closer to home and benefit residents of Dallas.
“My husband and I lived in Venezuela for eight years while he worked for Sun Oil Company,” said Hyde. “While we were living there, I chaired the Children’s Service League Fundraising Gala. I was nervous because I never put on an event of this magnitude previously, but I had friends who supported me. While the event was well attended and we made a lot of money, there were some minor hiccups. For starters, I was told the DJ would show up before 8:00 p.m. and he arrived late. This was after the arrival of the president of Venezuela’s wife, who was the honorary chair. Though she normally did not attend these kinds of events, she decided – unbeknownst to me – to come with 25 people in her entourage. People in the packed theater were kind enough to relinquish their seats for her and her party. All in all, I was pleased with the success of the event, and I continued my efforts with the Children’s Service League.”
From there, the couple moved to Philadelphia, the home office of Sun Oil. Since she is fluent in Spanish, Hyde volunteered to tutor 15- and 16-year-old teens in Spanish. She also helped at a hostel, joined a library league, became a deacon of a Presbyterian church and served on the boards of two separate hospitals. She and her husband spent 11 years in Philadelphia before returning to Dallas.
“Currently, I’m on the executive board of the Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts, which is of great interest,” said Hyde. “My other dedication is my affiliation with The Hockaday School Alumnae Association, as I started there in first grade, graduated in junior college and came back to reconnect serving as president of the alumnae association and on the board of trustees. I also enjoy being involved with The Dallas Symphony Orchestra League. For me, it’s rewarding to devote time to organizations that make a difference in the lives of other people. It is important that we give back in any way we can. I have experienced many wonderful things in my life, and I want to share my time and talents with the community.”
Currently, Hyde is also actively involved with the Presbyterian Communities and Services Foundation board of trustees, Erin Bain Jones Scholarship Committee of The Dallas Woman’s Club and Flower Guild co-chair at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. Her other affiliations and board positions include Marianne Scruggs Garden Club, Mary K. Craig Class, the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary and A.W.A.R.E. (The Alzheimer’s Women’s Association for Resources and Education). Previously, Hyde was actively involved in the planning and development of the Monie Chapel and the T. Boone Pickens Hospice and Palliative Care Center, which are owned by Presbyterian Communities and Services. She easily spends 10 to 12 hours each week volunteering and notes that all these causes are close to her heart.
“I think it is wonderful that The SMU Meadows School of the Arts has a partnership with Presbyterian Village North and arranges for students from their music therapy division to come to the senior living community to lead music therapy sessions twice a week,” said Hyde. “The Pickens Center is also just phenomenal at providing a beautiful and meaningful end-of-life experience for people and their families. I was deeply moved by one woman who expressed how much she appreciated the kindness and love shown to her during her final days. It is so rewarding to see firsthand the positive impact you can make on people’s lives.”
Just like Hyde, Dunbar also says that volunteer work fills her heart with happiness and notes it has changed her attitude as an American. She has volunteered in West East and South Africa as well as Tanzania. Her first project was as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana. She has visited more than 65 countries.
“If it weren’t for the long flights, I’d still be doing volunteer work overseas. I didn’t mind the modest living conditions, I actually enjoyed living a simpler way of life. I was hooked after my first trip with the Peace Corps,” said Dunbar. “I learned about the Peace Corps in 1961, but wasn’t qualified to join until 1971. When you sign up for the Peace Corps, they find out what skills you have and assign you to places that need your specific skills. I signed up and was assigned to Ghana, West Africa, where I was sent to teach office practices like typing and shorthand. With my background as an office manager – among other things – this was a natural fit. I had several years of office experience, and Ghana wanted young men to learn the skills necessary to become secretaries. We were the first group to come out and do something like that, and it was a wonderful experience. The boarding school was located 40 miles from the nearest town in the middle of the rainforest. I had a lovely small house there, which they called a bungalow.”
Dunbar’s roommate was another American woman who was also a teacher, though she taught biology. They learned how to get along without modern amenities. At one point, Dunbar created her very own shower curtain. She went to the market and bought a plastic tablecloth, which she pierced with piston rings that she looped onto a broomstick. Having done many volunteer projects worldwide since then, Dunbar says that Africa is her favorite continent, and she treasures her first project in the Peace Corps the most.
“My second project with the Peace Corps was in 1985, when I served on the island of Antigua in the Caribbean,” said Dunbar. “I was sent there to teach office practices as well. Antigua was a different experience from West Africa because I lived on the island, which I didn’t like as much as Africa. For my third assignment, I traveled to Thailand in 2004 to teach office practices and English. Outside of the Peace Corps, I continued to volunteer to teach English in other countries.”
While most of Dunbar’s travels were done by air, a select few times she traveled by boat. One year, she spent time on a floating university called Semester at Sea. She acknowledges that this was one of the most interesting experiences of her life. She completed two semesters on board, one in the spring and one in the summer. It took her to the Baltic area and Russia. She found out about volunteer projects such as this by responding to ads in the newspaper. She has completed a variety of volunteer work on both land and sea, as she loves helping others and experiencing other cultures.
“I encourage all people to experience the world and see how others live,” said Dunbar. “It is very rewarding and gives you a lot of knowledge about humankind. I truly believe the most wonderful way to see the world is through volunteer work. I still love to volunteer locally when I have the opportunity. Each week I volunteer to work a shift at the T. Boone Pickens Hospice and Palliative Care Center where I do clerical work, greet people, escort visitors to patients’ rooms and assist with special events. I still teach English when I can, and I enjoy giving presentations about my lifetime of volunteer work. Outside of my volunteer work and presentations, I express myself through French Tapestry Weaving. I saw it advertised in a book several years ago in Ghana and Nigeria. I loved the art and went up to England to take a course on how to create it. I took a follow-up course in San Francisco as well. It is a very rare skill and only a few studios teach it. I have made many amazing friends and memories through my volunteer work, and I have developed some fascinating skills. I have even written two books to share what I learned – an autobiography titled ‘No Ordinary Life’ and a smaller book about my time in Thailand titled ‘Thai Odyssey.’”
“We are truly astounded by the life stories of Mary Ann and Loretta, each fantastic in their own way,” said Bryan Cooper, executive director of Presbyterian Village North. “These women might not be noted in history books, but they are making history by changing lives and helping groups in other countries. They are a true inspiration to us all.”