Marilynn Cronin – Serving Up Service and Smiles at 65

Since retiring and relocating to Ocala, Fla. six years ago, Marilynn Cronin has been busier than ever pursuing her life’s pastime—serving others. And she does it all with a winning sense of humor and a smile.

A retired mother of three and grandmother of four, Marilynn volunteers in the marketing and community outreach department of the local Hospice. She is responsible for sending out the monthly e-newsletter for Women of the World, a women’s group whose sole purpose is dedicated to helping charitable organizations.

Always active in the church, where she is a lector and Eucharistic Minister, she also volunteers once a week at Brothers Keeper Soup Kitchen in Ocala, Fla. And that’s just for starters.

She’s also part of an organization called “100 Grandparents,” a group whose members—not quite 100—visit disadvantaged schools to read to underprivileged children of migrant workers and others at a local school. “100 Grandparents” donates clothing and food for the children. “It’s 30-40 degrees at the bus stop and they don’t have coats; some of them don’t get breakfast, so we provide them what they need,” says Cronin.

Squeeze in photography club, a weekly lunch on Mondays with women from her community and a trip to visit family here and there, and there’s hardly a moment of her day left unplanned. “I have no idea how I did everything I needed to when I worked,” she offers. “I feel like I’m busy all day long.” But at this stage in her life, she’s doing exactly what she wants to do.

Photography Club

Listening to her describe On Top of the World, the community where she now resides, a community for people 55 and older, I’m reminded of a college campus where passions are fueled. Residents can explore different activities and form organizations with other like-minded individuals. This was clearly the case with the photography club that Marilynn helped found in 2005 shortly after relocating to the area. She’d always wanted to learn photography. She’d taken lessons in a community college in her mid-50s. Now, in her retirement, she has the luxury of a little more time (in between all of her volunteering efforts that is) to practice her hobby and share it with others.

One of Marilynn's Photographs taken at Rainbow Springs during Cracker Days

As Secretary of the club, she contributed a column in the community’s newsletter. Now, as President, her main role is mentoring. “The members often need uplifting. They hear twenty positives and one negative, and they take the one criticism to heart,” she says. To provide the needed inspiration, the group meets four times a month, including a monthly field trip, and they enter their bounty in monthly photography critiques. Additionally, the club runs its own annual competition and sponsors a monthly exhibit at the community library and the community’s education center. Marilynn is quite pleased with the progress of her baby. The club helps provide a creative and social outlet for many in the group, no matter what the judges’ preferences are in any given year. “Art is in the eye of the beholder I have learned, but it’s lots of fun,” concludes Cronin.

What Makes Her Tick

Marilynn was born in 1945 in Jamaica, New York, three months ahead of schedule. Growing up, she attended Catholic parochial school. She loved learning, so much so that she became the eighth grade Valedictorian. But then everything changed. Her mother was old school and didn’t see any reason for a girl to study academics, so she insisted that Marilynn attend a commercial (or vocational) Catholic high school where her young daughter could learn stenography and other secretarial skills. Marilynn didn’t feel challenged in this environment and found it hard to pay attention. She went from straight As to Bs and sometimes Cs. Her educational aspirations declined with her grades. Even though she is quite conservative in most of her political views, to this day she strongly supports women’s rights in response to being held back during her formative years.

After high school, she worked just a few years before meeting her husband, Bob. They soon married and had their first child (Marilynn’s oldest son just turned 44!) They later added two daughters. When the youngest started 8th grade, Marilynn went back to work part-time as a Parrish secretary. “Going back to work was an eye opener,” she remembers. Soon she was working for a cellular phone company and then an environmental engineering company. At the latter, she obtained her CPS (certified professional secretary) and worked for the head of wastewater management. Later she moved to Hollywood, Fla. as an office manager for the company and soon after accepted a position with the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers, where she finished her career.

What drives her to keep going? A strong faith in God and a belief in good old-fashioned American values. “What we have in North America,” she states, “there’s no place else on earth like this.” She defies anyone who wants to threaten our way of life.

She remembers clearly 9/11. Her youngest grandchild was born that day. It was a very strange feeling seeing new life and hope created in the midst of such a tragedy. “You talk about mixed emotions…standing in the birthing room,” she says as she shakes her head.

But, according to Marilynn, “perhaps that is the lesson of life—that life goes on. Thinking back, you wonder what life will be like when you lose your parents, but life goes on. I’ve lost one brother; Bob has lost two, but life goes on.

‘You have to ask yourself: when bad things happen, are you going to get sour? Some people take things too personally. All you can do is just keep going. No one’s life is a bed of roses. Recognize it’s just life. This isn’t heaven. It’s what you do with it that matters. Grow and be positive. Life is your attitude. Nobody wants to die…but you were born, so you know damn well you’re gonna die. It’s what we do while we’re here that matters.

‘People today think that if they show up that’s good enough. It’s scary because these kids are being brought up with entitlement. Everyone has his or her own talents. It’s about finding your best fit; not giving up.”

Passing the Torch

And the Cronins have made no exceptions in instilling these values in their own offspring.

Service to others is a responsibility that Marilynn and her husband have passed down to their children. Their son, Rob Cronin, was just nominated to be the Idaho Mountain Express ‘Man of the Year.’ For over a decade, his wife and he have run a summer camp in Idaho for children with cancer. They’ve also been instrumental in producing the ‘Share Your Heart Ball,’ which raises over $600,000 for the children each year. “It is always a bittersweet experience for them,” shares Marilynn. “They go to the ball and see the good the fundraising is doing; at the same time they learn that one of their kids is no longer with us.

Granddaughter, Savannah, in N.C. - Marilynn Won an Honorable Mention for this one!

The Cronin’s second daughter is a physical education, dance and gymnastics teacher and her husband is a baseball coach. They are both helping shape the next generation while they raise their own children.

Marilyn’s youngest daughter works out of her home and has been treasurer for the girl’s  school PTO for years. Her son-in-law, Alvaro M. Vasquez, who serves in the U.S. Coast Guard, was just presented with the Meritorious Service Medal by the President of the United States. His wife and children have certainly paid their debt to America while their husband and father has been off serving his country. He will be deployed for another tour of duty soon.

I know that Marilynn is very proud of her family, the product of one of her greatest and most time-consuming accomplishments—her long and successful marriage to Bob.

(They just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. Congratulations to both of you!)

Lessons Learned

When asked what her greatest lesson has been in recent years, Marilynn simply replies “don’t judge.” Working in the soup kitchen, sometimes you see people pull up in an RV or with nice clothes, and you want to question what they’re doing there. Then, you learn that many of these people have lost their jobs and are about to lose their vehicle or their home. It’s such a humbling experience. I try to see Jesus in everyone. “In the soup kitchen,” she confides, “OMG, sometimes I say ‘do I really have to go near them because the smell is unbelievable.’ Don’t judge. Nobody knows what’s really going on. Just do what you do, and yeah, you can be taken advantage of, but just do what you do.”

Giving has just been the Cronins way of life. “You have to give something back,” says Cronin. Money was tight when the kids were young, but “I think you always get something back when you give,” she offers. Even at the soup kitchen, all of the photos she took turned into a project for the nun that runs the soup kitchen. It’s certainly been a fruitful life.

I had the pleasure of working with Marilynn for five years prior to her retirement, and no matter how bad things were, she could find the humor in the situation and summon a smile.

She believes that volunteering makes you a better person, and if you’ve spent any time with Marilynn, you’d have to agree that she’s made her point. It’s certainly made her one of the better people you’ll ever meet.

Check out Photography Over 50 for tips on how you can embrace your passion for photography!

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2 Responses to “Marilynn Cronin – Serving Up Service and Smiles at 65”
  1. Deb says:

    What a wonderful, inspiring story! It just goes to show that one person can make a huge difference in so many lives. Congratulations Marilynn!

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