PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (BP) — When 95-year-old Mary Katie Riddle of Wimberley, Texas, spied stacks of soiled Cambro containers, she did not hesitate.
The containers needed washing before they could be refilled with food prepared by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief mass feeding team at First Baptist Church in Pflugerville.
Riddle, who turns 96 on Friday (Sept. 22), plunged in with both hands.
“I started washing. I was doing the part where you pick them up and put them in the washer,” Riddle said. “We went through all 600 containers. We just had a good time out there. I would do it again tomorrow.”
Riddle admitted that the DR staff at FBC Pflugerville didn’t know quite where to place her when she arrived on Sept. 5 with other volunteers from her home church of 29 years, First Baptist Church of Wimberley.
They first assigned Riddle to assist another volunteer with the indoor task of counting out mustard and mayonnaise packets, but she decided it was not a two-person job. That’s when she decided to walk out to the hot parking lot where feeding operations were set up under large yellow tents.
The Cambros disinfected by Riddle would be used by the Red Cross to deliver hot meals to Hurricane Harvey evacuees sheltering in Austin.
“Someone always kept wanting to relieve me. I said no, I am not going to volunteer for things I can’t do,” Riddle said.
Volunteering is what she has done for more than nine decades.
Riddle’s involvement in disaster relief caps a lifetime of commitment to serving others. She has always been a “woman on mission,” she explained.
Riddle’s parents met in post-World War I Germany, where her father fought in the war and then served in the United States Army of occupation.
Riddle said her father enlisted at 16, lying about his age and serving five years. He met her mother in Germany, they married, and then Riddle “came along.” With an American father, she was “automatically a citizen of the U.S.”
Riddle’s German-born mother brought her to Texas as a baby, and the family settled in Dallas.
“Mother was Catholic. My dad was Lutheran. And I’m a Baptist,” Riddle said, recalling her mother’s determination to learn English. The Latin masses of the Catholic church challenged both mother and daughter.
A neighbor invited Riddle and her brother to Sunday school at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Dallas.
Riddle’s parents never became Baptists, but they made sure their children attended church. “[My mother] dressed me up Sundays and made sure I went because that’s where I wanted to go. I loved church,” Riddle said.
“I’ve been a missionary all my life,” Riddle noted. Even as a youngster, she visited nursing homes.
After Pearl Harbor, Riddle worked for the government and joined the Marine Reserves.
Eventually, she earned degrees in teaching from the University of Corpus Christi (now Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi) and arts and humanities from Texas A&I (now Texas A&M) Kingsville.
She became a secondary English teacher in Corpus Christi, raised two daughters who also became teachers, retired from public school in the late 1980s and relocated to Wimberley with her husband.
After her retirement from teaching, the Riddles volunteered with the International Mission Board, spending a year in Brazil, where Riddle taught missionary children and her husband assisted in building churches.
Following her husband’s death in 1996, Riddle went on five short-term mission trips of six weeks each to China, Russia, Germany, Jamaica — mostly doing vacation Bible schools or teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) — although she also worked with orphans in Kenya.
Ten years ago at age 86, Riddle became certified in disaster relief cooking and feeding.
“I got me a nice yellow cap,” she chuckled. Pflugerville marked her first opportunity to deploy.
Riddle said she would like to accompany the FBC Wimberley DR team as they go to clean out a large house in Southeast Texas. But the long drive makes her hesitate.
“But give me some more of those Cambros, I’ll wash them,” she exclaimed.
When asked about her accomplishments, Riddle laughed, “You need 96 years to do all this. You go from 1921 to 2017, that’s a lot of years.
“The only message I have to older people: Get out of your rocking chairs. It is wonderful what you can do when your heart is in it. I had a great day in Pflugerville.
“You are never too old if … God is with you. I am happy I could do it. I would encourage anybody to volunteer…. Don’t worry about age. Find what you can do.
“God is good. He opened the door. When you get to be 90-plus, people want to wait on you. You don’t want to hear that.”