A typical day for elder Roberta Wilson begins at 4 a.m. and doesn’t end until well after 9 p.m.
“I sit in my bed and try to figure out how I am going to get out of my house,” Wilson said.
She doesn’t allow her age to deter her from being a volunteer and contributor to the Austin community. An active member of her block club, Wilson, who was recently honored as a Illinois Senior Hall of Famer, also volunteers her time at Austin’s Third Unitarian Church, 301 N. Mayfield, at food pantries and homeless shelters.
“I am 84 years old, but I am not ready to retire,” she insists.
Wilson was honored last fall 2011 for her efforts to improve education for Austin residents with her induction in the state’s Senior Hall of Fame. She was one of four elders honored statewide last year for the 16th annual induction. Illinois citizens 65 or older are nominated based on one of four categories: education, performance and/or graphic arts, labor force and community service. Since its creation in 1994, 83 seniors have been inducted, Wilson included.
This is not the first time Wilson has been recognized for her work. In 2004, she was inducted into the Chicago Senior Hall of Fame, among many other honors.
“Roberta is not one to shrink from a fight,” said Wilson’s pastor, Rev. Brian Covell of Third Unitarian Church.
Covell said Wilson, a longtime, active member of his church, shows no signs of slowing down in her desire to advocate for community improvement and education.
Wilson, the oldest of four children, didn’t have the opportunity to pursue an education growing up. Yet, she’s made it her life mission to help others improve themselves academically.
In 1974, Wilson, along with six other Third Unitarian church members, helped create the church’s scholarship fund program for high school seniors. All year long, Wilson helps raise funds for the scholarship by word of mouth, pancake breakfasts and luncheons at the church. In June of last year, 15 students received $1,000 each. Wilson is also there for the annual scholarship ceremony, taking place at the church with the students and family members present as well.
She credits her father, a World War I veteran, who always sought opportunities to help other veterans. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom she marched with during the Civil Rights Movement, is another inspiration, she says. King taught her the importance of helping others without regard to skin color. Wilson also credits her great aunt, who always ensured that Wilson and her eight siblings had plenty of winter clothes, and for instilling in her the importance of volunteerism.
“Stay strong. Work with your community. Don’t stay in the house, even if you’re 84 years old,” Wilson says. “Go out and help somebody. If you help somebody, then your life was not in vain.”