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Good Neighbors: A life of compassion

My good friend Marlys Weekley was hospitalized recently after a major stroke paralyzed the right side of her body and eliminated her ability to swallow or speak.

Hooked to a respirator in the intensive care unit, she nevertheless managed to show her always-generous nature.

Because she was left-handed, she could write. One day, she wrote: "Ask the nurse for 2 blankets." She underlined "2."

When the warmed blankets were on her, Marlys grabbed the top one with her good hand and held it up. Was she too warm? No. Wanted it on her feet? No. She wrote again, "Give it to Fran. She's cold."

A short time earlier, I had walked into Marlys' room and said, "It's warm in here." Fran, Marlys' close friend for more than 43 years, replied, "I've been chilly all day." So Marlys, struggling for life and with seemingly nothing to offer, had the compassion and thought to give Fran a blanket.

It was so typical.

Born into a hard-working Minnesota family, Marlys moved here in the early 1960s to teach at Ceres High School. She often said she was teaching in Minnesota on a brutally cold, icy day and telling the class there must be somewhere warmer to live, then throwing a dart at a U.S. map and seeing it hit central California.

Most of the next 30-plus years were spent working with teens. Her former students remember "Miss Weekley" as an athletic and no-nonsense P.E. teacher who gave up extra time to run the Girls Athletic Association program. (Remember GAA? Before Title IX made girls sports teams mandatory, they played only intramurals.)

Marlys had a quiet financial generosity. She was thrifty, yet never hesitated to open her purse for others.

For several years, Marlys picked up day-old bread and other staples and gave it away in a west Ceres neighborhood. More recently, she and friends shared food with the homeless on Sunday afternoons.

She didn't hesitate to take on projects. When my family went on a church mission trip to Mexico, she went along, signing on for the hardest job — scraping off the brush and topsoil to pick up rocks that were then dumped in a sewer leach line.

Her favorite thing, other than hiking and camping, was interacting with children. For years, she volunteered with a midweek program at Harvest Presbyterian Church in Ceres. Each week, she'd help with crafts, eat hot dogs with the kids, clean up and join the singing in the chapel.

I can still see her laughing face, delighted when those kids sang with extra gusto or put movements to the songs.

And she was indeed a good neighbor, opening her pool to them daily in the summer, delivering firewood, offering advice and other help.

Marlys died last Sunday. Those lungs that had climbed high peaks and canoed down part of the Mississippi River simply stopped working.

Her strong faith gave her an assurance of heaven with her God. I can see her now, asking if she can lead a hike or help a neighbor, or laughing at the song-learning baby angels, if there is such a thing.

Back on earth, I'm hoping those who knew Marlys will imitate her unselfish acts of compassion. Myself included.

Do you have a story about someone who has helped others or is a terrific role model? Send it to Sue Nowicki at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352 or e-mail