Everyday Heroes: Turning 100 is not slowing down Verna Scharbach's volunteer spirit

Verna Scharbach has volunteered at the Mission Benedict's food bank for thirty-plus years. In fact, the enterprise started in her garage.

A life-long Mount Angel resident celebrates her 100th birthday doing what she loves best: Helping others.

Verna Scharbach has volunteered at the Mission Benedict's food bank for 30-plus years. In fact, the enterprise started in her garage.


They surprised Verna Scharbach last week at the Saint Joseph Shelter and Mission Benedict food bank in Mount Angel with balloons, cake and plenty of hugs.

There was enough of all three to go around.

“I was totally surprised by it. I thought, maybe, they’d have a piece of cake or something,” Scharbach said. “But I never dreamed there'd be anything like this. They had this big party and everything, and all the decorations and everything. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do.”

Not knowing what to do is not an everyday occurrence for Verna.

Born five months before the end of World War I, she lived through the Depression, another World War and 18 presidents.

Her secret to a long life?

“Stay busy,” she said. “Help people. Don’t be selfish. The world is not out there for you alone. It’s for everybody.”

Verna says her mother taught her to help others in need without expectation of compensation.

“My mother always taught us to help people, because she helped everybody,” Scharbach said. “And one time my neighbor gave me 10 cents for helping do something, and I took it home and showed my mother and she said you take that right back. She said we help our neighbors, we don’t take money from them.”

That spirit of giving back continues to this day at the food bank where Verna still volunteers once or twice a week.

“We check people in and we give them a little ticket, and they give them to Verna and she writes them down,” said volunteer Don Wada. "She’s really important, more than just because she’s a hundred years old.”

Verna's youngest daughter, Nancy, also volunteers at Mission Benedict.

“She likes the idea of finding things for people,” Nancy Scharbach said. “She always had a list of our entire family and all our friends. Everybody's shoe size, everybody’s coat size. All the children.”

She didn't do it for the recognition.

But it's not every day you turn 100.

“I was very touched myself and surprised when I came and saw them putting up decorations because I knew just how touching that would be for her,” Nancy said. “It’s hard for her to feel special -- this is the kind of thing that would mean a lot to her.”

Her spirit of giving wasn't always in place, Verna says.

“I used to think you don’t need anybody, you don’t need friends or anything to get along, but I found out that’s not true,” she said. “People need people. Ever since then I’ve been doing anything to be with people and talk with them.”

Fellow volunteer Mary Anne Contreras met Verna 20 years ago when she came to the mission for clothes for the son she was expecting.

“She loves to give back no matter what color you are, what race you are or anything about you, we’re all the same person,” Contreras said. “And that’s what she says. She just loves to give and she’s going to give and give.”

The Saint Joseph and Mission Benedict today is part of Catholic Community Services, which began its social service programs in 1938 -- 80 years ago and the year Verna turned 20.

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