Debbie Grinstead Beene: Delivering Meals for 45 Years as a Volunteer for Lawrence Meals on Wheels
By Marsha Henry Goff (Class of '56) for Amazing Aging!
Debbie [Grinstead] Beene has delivered well over 10,000 meals during the 45 years she has been a Lawrence Meals on Wheels volunteer. After two years of teaching fourth grade in Eudora, Debbie became a full-time wife, mother and volunteer. In addition to delivering meals to elderly and/or disabled individuals, she has served the organization as a multi-year board member and as president for three years simply because she “felt like there was a need to feed people.” As so often happens when one spouse becomes deeply involved with a volunteer cause, Debbie’s husband Daryl also became motivated to help, serving as the group’s treasurer for five years. He says that his wife “enjoys talking to people and stays involved. She still stays in contact with many people to whom she delivered meals many years ago.”
When their son Mike was three, Debbie began taking him with her to deliver meals. “They liked him,” she says, “and it was good for him, but he wasn’t always happy about it.”
“No,” says Daryl, “but I really think long-term it had quite with you or find someone to watch him.”
“Or not do it,” says Debbie. When Debbie began volunteering for Meals on Wheels in 1971, the organization was only a year old. The idea for the meal program began in 1969 when Evelyn Senecal and her family moved to Lawrence from Iowa City, Iowa, where she had been teaching home economics at the University of Iowa while earning her PhD. She recalled speaking with a University of Iowa colleague who mentioned she was delivering meals on wheels. That first year in Lawrence, Evelyn was unemployed and pregnant with her fourth child. She spoke at a meeting of Rotary and secured that organization’s commitment to provide start-up funds for a meals program. She met with Oletha Blevins, Douglas County home economics extension agent, and Lynn Rothwell, RN, founder and executive director of Douglas County Visiting Nurses. The two women offered advice to Evelyn, who then founded Meals on Wheels and served as the agency’s first president. A female attorney helped incorporate the organization. Another woman volunteered to handle publicity. Adult Sunday School classes donated money for those who could not afford to pay. In March, 1970, volunteers began delivering meals prepared by Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
The next month, Lawrence was racked with strife and a curfew was imposed as well as a dark to dawn blockade of the city which was enforced by Highway Patrolmen stationed at the city limits to restrict entrance into Lawrence. Two young men — one white, one black — were killed, a police officer was critically wounded and arsonists burned the KU Student Union on April 20, 1970. “And through it all,” Evelyn states proudly, “we never stopped delivering meals.”
Evelyn and her husband Bob have each delivered meals and continue to support the organization. “My heart is still with Meals on Wheels,” she says.
Debbie Beene knows that there are others who have been involved for 40 or more years with Meals on Wheels. Carolyn Langrebe is one of those volunteers. She delivered meals on the first day, during summers when she was teaching and, now retired, delivers meals every day.
Kim Cullis began as a volunteer, became a board member, and now serves Meals on Wheels as executive director. She recognizes the importance of volunteers. “With only three part-time staff members,” she says, “Lawrence Meals on Wheels depends on over 125 volunteers a week to deliver 130-150 meals daily Monday through Friday. We could not do what we do without dedicated and loyal volunteers like Debbie Beene. She delivers hot, nutritional meals to homebound elderly and/or disabled residents of Lawrence.” Debbie additionally delivers complimentary copies of the Journal-World and Kaw Valley Senior Monthly. Kim notes that Debbie “also delivers a smile, friendly visit and wellness check. Sometimes she may be the only visitor our client has that day, week or month even.”