After Carol Fears' husband died in 1999 from a long battle with illness, she sat in her empty house and realized she had a decision to make.
She'd retired in 1995 from Mallinckrodt, where she worked in order and entry and after that spent four years taking care of her husband. She realized she suddenly had a lot of time on her hands and was anxious to put it to good use.
"It was like OK—what do we do, do we sit here and sulk and cry, or do we get out of the house and do something?" she said.
So do something she did.
Carol has spent over a decade offering every spare moment of her time to help others.
Whether she's behind the scenes in O'Fallon's Volunteer Services office making copies of programs for an upcoming event, or dressing up as Mrs. Claus for the city's annual tree lighting—Carol can always be found volunteering in the community.
"It's my life," she said. "I love volunteering—there's nothing like it."
She started her volunteer work for the city when she moved from Florissant to her O'Fallon villa in 2003.
Every Monday she spends her time in the City of O'Fallon Volunteer Services office.
"I love it and it's close to home," she said. "Some days there's work for three hours and some days there's work for 10 hours—it depends on what time of year it is. "
Even when she's not volunteering out at the , Carol keeps busy helping others.
On Thursdays, she volunteers at Marygrove Child Center in Florissant, where she grew up. She shops for the center's incoming children who may not have clothes or other necessities.
Carol is also an active member of located just down the street from City Hall.
She said she volunteers not only because it's the right thing to do—but because it allows her to get out of the house and meet people.
"I enjoy being around kids, but I also enjoy being around people my age and working with them," she said.
Carol is no stranger to helping out. She began volunteering with her mother when she was younger, and said from an early age the importance of giving back was stressed in their home.
"My mom was a volunteer and she taught me and my sister that we must give back," she said. "We were taught that you give back and do what you can."
Over the years Carol has given back to her church, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the St. Louis Sports Commission, the City of St. Peters and numerous other organizations –but she said helping out around O'Fallon is her "number one favorite. "
City Volunteer Service members say the feeling is mutual.
"Carol is our organizer to help us prepare for events and she puts us back together again after with re-inventory and repackaging," said Kathy Halstead, manager of Volunteer Services.
Kathy said of the 70 volunteer sponsored events each year, Carol attends at least 50.
"Carol is a unique person—she will do whatever is needed to achieve results," she said.
Alexis Jaegers, coordinator of Volunteer Services agrees.
"Carol has presence about her—there is nothing she wouldn't do to help an individual. She sees a need and she seeks to reach it," Alexis said. "I told Carol last week, Mondays aren't usually a day people look forward to, but because she's here—I do. "
Kathy said Carol's dedication to the community is apparent and motivational to everyone she meets.
"She gets that cooperation from other volunteers and they respect her and understand how hard she works," she said. "She's passionate and that transcends to the public—they know they can approach her."
Carol said she is just doing what she loves.
"The least amount of time I spend inside my house—the happier I am," she said. "I like to be busy."
She also enjoys passing her love of helping others on to her 7-year-old granddaughter Aspen.
"I'm proud because I've gotten her into volunteering," she smiled. "Most of the time she's up her helping me fold papers or doing something like counting candy canes."
Carol encourages others to find the program that fits them and get involved.
"Don't sit at home and mope—if you're physically able, get out there and get moving," she said. "There's nothing better than volunteering, especially for the city of O'Fallon. "