At age 94, Margaret Thirtle lives by some simple adages when it comes to giving and volunteering.
“I worry about people who fall between the cracks.”
“Do the best you can each day to help others.”
“I like to feel that it’s something I would do if no one approached me.”
And she has another when it comes to Mary Cariola, one of her favorite agencies.
“When you go see the children yourself, it’s enough motivation to give.” That’s why Margaret helps organize cookie and ice cream parties for Cariola students, along with her friends at St. John’s Meadows, an assisted living facility down the road from Mary Cariola.
Born and raised in Rochester, she overcame the death of her father and younger sister at an early age to build an impressive career. She spent 40 years at Sibley’s department store, many as a senior vice president responsible for public relations, marketing, fashion shows and displays. She traveled the world and also brought in over 100 celebrities to the downtown store, “back when downtown meant something.”
In looking back at her career, however, Margaret seems most proud of the programs she helped develop for teenagers whose fathers were serving in World War II and whose mothers were now working.
“It was such a stressful time for young people,” she says. “The changes were such a jolt to their security that I thought we should do something.” She organized several “teen canteens,” programs that helped them learn life skills like cooking and sewing, while also providing them with adult and peer support.
The first canteen was at St. Boniface Church in Rochester and it was a huge success. Before long, Margaret was traveling the country to help organize and promote others.
“I think we gave kids the message that somebody cares,” she says today. Seventy years later, she is giving Mary Cariola kids that very same message.