“Servant of the community.”
“True citizen of the year.”
Those are just some words area residents used when describing Marty Warns and his commitment to helping those around him.
Earlier this year, the Daily Leader invited readers to nominate someone who they feel embodied a commitment to volunteerism and who made the biggest impact on the Madison community. Five out of 14 letters received nominated Warns.
Judges from around the community and from The Daily Leader then read all of the nomination letters and cast their votes.
“I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” said Warns. “I was shocked that somebody would have nominated me for this award.”
Warns has been volunteering for various organizations since his now-adult children were in school. One of those organizations is Lake County 4-H.
“I got involved with them (4-H) when my children got involved,” he said, adding that he’s been a 4-H volunteer and leader for more than 20 years. “With the club, I get them actively involved with things here in town.”
Some of those activities include getting his 4-H club involved in cleaning up the Prairie Village grounds after various events, setting up an activity during the community’s Day with Santa events, filling the bird feeders at Bethel Lutheran Home, and making valentines and Christmas ornaments for Bethel residents.
“As they grow, they become more confident, even in meetings or helping with things,” said Warns, who said that watching children grow is what he enjoys about helping with 4-H. “I try to encourage them to become responsible citizens, to help in the community.”
Warns is also active at his church, United Methodist Church in Madison. There, he coordinates and serves the weekly Gathering meals. He and his wife Sue also run a lunch stand at Prairie Village, the proceeds from which go back to the church’s youth group.
“You always worry about having enough volunteers to help you, but they always seem to step up and help,” he said. “You might lead it, but if you don’t have a lot of people helping, it’s hard to get it done.”
He has also been helping the Salvation Army every year for the past 15 years by working as a bell ringer during the Christmas season, an activity he has his 4-H group help with as well. About three years ago, the person who was in charge left so Warns stepped up and started lining up bell ringers.
“I really enjoy ringing the bells,” he said. “I visit with all the people, say ‘hi,' return carts for them.”
Even when he’s not in the Madison area, Warns can be found looking for ways to help people.
Once when he was in Chicago for work as an insurance examiner, he noticed many homeless people asking for money. He decided he wanted to help them, and so he went to a grocery store, bought items to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bought cookies and bottled water, and put them all in lunch sacks so he could distribute them.
He estimates that he has distributed about 700 lunch sacks while on his business trips.
“You do wonder if it makes a difference,” said Warns, who finally did ask one elderly black man if the lunches helped him. “He said, ‘Yeah, I really like them. They’re easy to eat because I don’t have teeth.’ You don’t even think of that.”
He also remembers a trip he and his wife Sue took to Guatemala as part of a mission trip through Wentworth-based organization Leah’s Kids. The organization helps orphans, widows and the poor in Guatemala. His wife and children signed up as part of the church youth group, so he decided to go too.
“The poorest people here are the richest people there,” he said, adding that the five mission trips he’s taken over the years have been “eye-opening.”
When asked what it is about volunteering that he enjoys so much, Warns said that he just believes you should help when you see something that needs to be done or when you see someone who needs help.
“I get up in the morning and say, ‘Lord, I want to be your hands and feet today,’ and some days you find things to do to help people and some days you don’t,” he said. “When an opportunity presents itself, take it.”
Even what looks like a small gesture, like taking a shopping cart back to the store for someone, can help others.
“You never know when you might make somebody’s day even by talking to them,” he said. “Maybe somebody is struggling. It might make their day.”
He said that it’s true people must be cautious, “but if somebody needs help, help them.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask if you can help,” he said.