There are some people who never see a need to retire from a job. As long as they are capable and enjoying it, why give it up? Why not keep plugging along and collecting a paycheck? But what about when there is no paycheck to motivate you to stay? Would you give it five years? 10 years? 20?
For Mary Ruth Harrington, there’s no such thing as burnout. There’s no salary. Just a desire to make an impact on young women and do work for the Lord. Harrington became a member of the First Baptist Church of Hammond in the 1930’s and has been involved in her church in a number of capacities ever since then.
Her biggest role, in terms of longevity, has been as a Sunday School teacher, one that she has been doing for 65 years. And the perky 94-year-old plans to continue acting as a mentor and spiritual friend to her class of female high school seniors as long as she can.
She has scaled back on class size, which used to number about 20. She now has 6 or 7 teenage girls in her class. “Someone once asked how many girls I might have taught. If you say an average of at least 10, that’s 650 girls, so that’s a lot,” she said.
Harrington said she is touched when she is remembered by former students in her class. “I get invitations to weddings and baby showers,” she said. “I like being part of their lives.”
“I believe her faith is genuine and authentic and so important to her that she wants to invest it in the young ladies in the church,” said Brian Hassee, Sunday School superintendent and youth pastor. “She’s made such an impact. It’s kind of a lifetime badge to be in her class. You see now adult women who were in her class walking arm in arm with her at church and they are now serving the Lord side by side.”
Harrington moved to Hammond as a teenager, met her husband and married. They had one son and she became a grandmother and then great-grandmother. She recalls her first job working for an optometrist in town for 50 cents a day. Her husband served during World War II and she did her part at home, selling war bonds and working in a shipyard to help build boats.
Besides teaching Sunday school, Harrington has been director of the primary church, which is a special service for youths ages 8, 9 and 10 year olds to attend while their parents attend the regular service. She was the first director of the primary church. She also served as a circle leader, vice president and treasurer of the Women’s Missionary Society and during summer vacation she was a long-time superintendent of the junior bible school.
“I live by faith,” said Harrington. “That’s the only thing you can do sometimes. I have a motto for my class ‘Wait, trust and obey.’ I think that’s what we have to do. Trust in the Lord to do what he has for us and obey what he has, whether it’s what we want done or not.”
Hasse said each week, he usually drops in on the Sunday school classes and he often hears Harrington sharing personal stories. “She talks about her marriage to her husband, who has passed away, and she is trying to help these young ladies prepare for their marriages.”
She is part of a group at church called the “Best Year’s Club,” and the group goes out on regular outings and trips. When she was 92, the club planned a cruise to Alaska. One of her former students asked her about the trip. Harrington responded that she’d like to take the trip, but was unable to go being on a limited income.
“She got on the Internet and contacted a lot of the girls and they put money together and sent me on that trip,” said Harrington. “It was wonderful to know that God wanted me to go on that trip and whispered to those girls.”
Harrington said her favorite part about her role at the church has been seeing how the girls mature and ‘just helping them.’ Girls that age need a lot of help, she said. “I really do think that the Lord still lets me teach at this age because I still feel like I have something I can teach the girls.”
“She is a wonderful lady with a spirit that is still young at heart, that’s for sure,” said Hasse.