Marcia Friesen, Harvey County United Way second vice chair
By Sheila G. Kelley, Development Coordinator
Question: Where did you grow up and what was your family life like?
Answer: I grew up on a farm outside of Sterling, Illinois, the second of five children. Growing up on the farm meant learning how to work hard. It meant that summers were not for vacations and time off. Some of the responsibilities that we assisted with were feeding livestock (sheep, Angus cattle), baling hay, “walking beans” (which meant walking the rows and cutting off milkweeds and rag weeds) and tending the large garden that we had on our land. Our father also had a side job as custodian at our church. Because life as a farmer means long and intense hours of work, we kids were often the ones to take on the cleaning of the building. This job taught all of us to be respectful in public buildings and to have empathy and understanding for how hard people work behind the scenes. It helped us be grateful for all persons and the contributions they make.
As children, we considered ourselves to be “middle class”. We had adequate food, clothes, and transportation. We knew that others had a lot more money than we did, but at the same time there were friends who also had a lot less than we did. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I found out that we were below the poverty line as far as income guidelines. As an adult, it has amazed me at how my parents were able to raise us with such limited finances. And makes me even more thankful for the opportunities and benefits I was afforded despite the roadblocks and barriers that come with the challenges of poverty.
Question: Who have been your strongest influences in life?
Answer: The first person who comes to my mind is my dad – Robert LeFevre. My dad worked hard his entire life. He always gave 100% and never complained. At the end of the day, he still had energy and spent time reading books, playing games and spending quality time talking and listening to us. Dad taught us to think of others before ourselves. He sacrificed lots to have the money to be able to provide for us. Dad never got the chance to attend college. But from the time we were young, dad made sure to tell us that he wanted us to go to at least two years of college. He persisted in this and four of the five kids in the family attended college (one earned a master’s degree, two got bachelor’s degrees, and one, an associate degree.)
The second person who had a strong influence in my life was my teacher and cross-country coach Don Mekeel. “Mekeel” as we called him, made sure I could get to early practices by picking me up each morning (we could not afford for me to have a car) and dropping me off at home after the afternoon practices. Mekeel had a way of motivating his athletes by building on their strengths and using positive feedback. He used encouragement to get us to perform at our best and to strive to become even better. Mekeel helped us set goals and then continued to promote new goals once we accomplished the existing ones. He taught us that hard work and dedication were never wasted, and that teamwork and friendship were an integral part of life and success. Like my dad, Mekeel never asked us to do anything that he himself would not do or demonstrate.
The personalities and character traits of both my dad and Mekeel are those I have tried to model in my life. And I count myself as fortunate to have had their influences in my life.
Question: What led you to your career?
When I was in the third grade at my elementary school in Illinois, there was a preschool classroom for children who had hearing impairments. They needed students to come into the classroom during recess, lunch, and any activities when they needed extra help. I got chosen to do this and I absolutely loved every minute of it. My two friends and I quickly picked up sign language. And to the dismay of our teacher, we were able to “talk” during class and not even disrupt anyone!!! I got the opportunity to continue this until I had to transition from that school to attend seventh grade. From that time forward, I wanted to be a teacher of the hearing impaired. But when I left Hesston College with my associates degree, the closest program for getting that degree was at the University of Kansas and I was not able to relocate to Lawrence. Two years later, when Bethel College introduced a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education, I found my solution. I was then fortunate enough to obtain my Master’s degree from Wichita State University as well. I loved all my 31 years in that profession before retiring from the Harvey County Infant Toddler Program in 2019.
Question: How would friends and acquaintances describe you?
Answer: I think they would say I’m organized, kind, thorough, reliable, compassionate, with a sense of humor. I like to make connections with people and to make sure they feel valued and appreciated.
Question: With so many volunteer opportunities in the community, why did you choose to be involved with Harvey County United Way?
Answer: For many years, Harvey County United Way provided money to the Infant Toddler Program where I worked. Working as a Partner Agency with United Way allowed me to see how they invest in many programs and causes in our county. When I was approached about becoming a member of the Board, I felt that it was a good opportunity for me to give back to the agency, the community, and the donors of United Way.
Question: What’s the one thing you want people to know about HCUW?
Answer: All money given to Harvey County United Way stays in our county to support children, families, and individuals, and programs. I think this is very important for donors to understand. We only employ 1 full-time and 1 part-time employee leaving most of the money to go toward projects.
I was involved with UW for a lot of years (can’t remember the number of years) as a Partner Agency when I was Coordinator and Service Provider with Harvey County Infant Toddler Program. I joined the UW Board in January of 2020. I’m in my second year as the second vice chair.
Thank you, Marcia, for your service to Harvey County and your unwavering support of Harvey County United Way.