By Roberta Jonnet
It is said that the leaf does not fall far from the tree. When Nancy Leaf Weis was asked what made her want to reach out to her community, she said, “Well, I just remember my mother volunteering.” Nancy helped, too. Referring to a time that her mother was a Red Cross volunteer working at a flood site, Nancy says, “I remember standing on a bank serving mash potatoes out of a brand new garbage can to all the workers.”
Nancy arrived in Snohomish County in 1953 and began her long term of service to the people of this county. The Human Services Council of Snohomish County’s Liz McLaughlin Award of Excellence presented to Nancy in 2000 says, “(this) award epitomizes an individual committed to excellence in the delivery and maintenance of quality human services to the citizens of Snohomish County.” The award is given to “acknowledge a lifetime of contribution which expands contributions in the actual development and delivery of services and includes contributions in the area of public policy.”
Nancy sums up her commitment to community with her business card, which reads, “Nancy L. Weis, Professional Volunteer, A People Caring Person.”
Nancy was born at Scofield Erickson Army Base, Honolulu, Hawaii. Her father was a 1923 West Point graduate. Nancy terms herself “an Army brat” and says, “I went to twelve different schools before I graduated from high school.” She attended Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill. She met her future husband, Don, who was a pre-med student at the University of Iowa. They married and began life in a Quonset hut on the Iowa campus.
In response to the Navy’s call upon Don, Nancy says, “We got out the map and thought, ‘We can have an internship in Massachusetts, Florida or Bremerton, Washington.” We (looked at Bremerton and) thought, ‘We’ve never been there.’ We took one look at the Northwest and said, ‘Forget the rest of the country!’”
The Weis family was comprised of four children at that time, and a fifth was on the way. The couple bought a “beach house” on Lake Stevens. Nancy laughs and says, “That first year the pipes froze, and there were rats. The kids had mumps for Thanksgiving and chicken pox for Christmas.” Asked why she became involved in the community with so much going on at home, she replies, “I just couldn’t stay home and be a mother. We started our own childcare center at Lake Stevens because I had this three-year old who had an imaginary bus driver. And I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this child in reality.’ We started in the basement of one of the gal’s houses. It was a volunteer thing, and the parents took part. I was the music director (because) I played the piano, and somebody else did the art. We had two scooters and an inner tube; that was our gym stuff.”
Nancy always enjoyed being part of the community, whether at work or at play. “I always tell people I’m too stupid to play bridge,” she laughs, “and I like to play nine holes of golf, and not keep score, and go out to lunch. I don’t want to play eighteen holes of golf.” She continues, “I did a lot of volunteering at the school. I was a room mother for a hundred years.” When five school levies failed, the district had no library. Nancy and some of the other parents volunteered to keep the library open. She also supported her children’s participation in extracurricular activities. At one time Nancy had a daughter each on the cheer squad in elementary, junior high, high school and college teams.
As the wife of an anesthesiologist, Nancy was deeply involved with the Medical Auxiliary. The auxiliary went beyond giving away “Mr. Yuk” stickers and began a reference list for medical students so they would know where the scholarships were and what courses they had to take. “There were no computers,” Nancy says, “We just looked it up, typed it out, and got it on a card that was kind of like a Rolodex.”
When United Way of Snohomish County asked for a representative to start a new Social Planning Committee, Nancy volunteered. Asked to serve on United Way’s board, Nancy was the first woman president in Snohomish County. She went on to represent Snohomish County at the state level, and became the first woman president of the United Way of Washington. “It was a real education,” she says. “I met people from all over the county and learned about programs.” Nancy paid her own way across the country. “Most of the men who were on the board, their companies would send them,” she says. “I didn’t have anyone to underwrite me.”
In 1965 Nancy became a charter member of the Assistance League of Everett and served as the first Operation School Bell chairperson. “Each community started a program their community needed,” she recalls. “We started Operation School Bell because we learned from the teachers that there were kids who were unable to come to school because they didn’t have school clothes.”
The school district gave the Assistance League a portable building – with no bathroom. “We had to work there for hours!” she remembers. The women started by collecting their children’s outgrown clothing. Nancy says, “We outfitted one hundred children that first year, most of them in Everett.” More than 850 children had been clothed by the start of school in the year 2000.
“I loved that job because you knew you’d taken care of kids and changed their lives that day!” Nancy states emphatically.
Nancy was asked to serve on a Department of Social and Health Services pilot program called the Foster Parent Citizen group. She stayed for six years. “It was really exhausting,” she says. “You hear about kids who have had thirteen placements and they’re only ten years old. And it’s not the department’s fault. I want to ask these people who criticize, ‘How many foster children do you have?’ It’s a hard job. I had foster children. I took teenage girls and had five over a three to four-year period.” Nancy remained close to her foster children. One of them had her wedding at the Weis home on Rucker Hill, and years later Nancy was able to be in the delivery room with another foster daughter when the had her first baby.
Nancy also served on the Homeless Task Force for four years and became chair. “We learned there was some money available, and it makes a lot of sense to cooperate because a person may have a hotel room from the Red Cross and it gets you out of the cold, (but) you need to make a plan; you need a caseworker or a bus ticket home,” she explains. “We needed to have everybody talking to everybody.” At one time a person had to go to five different agencies, but the Homeless Task Force streamlined and computerized the process through the Red Cross of Snohomish County.
“I have a passion for people taking care of one another,” Nancy says. Her children know that she is such a person herself. One of them says, “Through the years, we as a family have relied on her for her knowledge, her willingness to always be there to support, teach, organize, direct, respect and always love us, no matter what.”
And Nancy wants people to know her children are active in the community as well. Beth, an emergency room nurse, gives her free time to place dogs and cats in special homes; Sue, an Intensive Care Unit nurse, volunteers for youth conferences and camps; Bill, known as “always the guy that helps you move, build a ramp, fix a deck,” donates handmade items to auctions; Patty has worked as a volunteer teacher’s assistance, chaperoned choir trips and raised money for the school; Peggy has been a United Way team leader at her work and donates her own flower arrangements to auctions.
Perhaps when asked why they do all this, Nancy’s children will give the same reply that she did. “I just remember my mother volunteering.” It is a legacy worth repeating.
Source: Interview with Nancy L. Weis 10 December 2001
©2004 Roberta Jonnet All Rights Reserved