By Nancy Price
Along each of our paths in life, we have many teachers. Some may teach us valuable professional skills. Others teach us life skills: to give to others, lead by example or persevere beyond what we think we are capable of doing. Others may teach us to be patient, loving, humble and kind.
Those who know Mary Kay Anthony would say that she has taught all of the above and more, which is why she has been named the 2018 Center Grove ICON of the Year. Anthony, currently president of the Greenwood Kiwanis Club, serves in many capacities. She serves on the Alliance Board of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the South Group of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where she proofreads publications.
She is a hospice volunteer through Kindred Hospice, organizes fundraisers to help raise money for Riley Children’s Hospital, makes neck pillows and creates kits that include playing cards and gum to help those in the waiting rooms of the hospital pass the time. Anthony also serves hot meals for the elderly at Greenwood United Methodist Church and those with disabilities at Gateway Services.
She also volunteers for the ISO’s gift store, hosts a spring luncheon style show and works at Yuletide to help raise money for the symphony. She makes blankets for those living at Wheeler Mission and rings bells for the Salvation Army.
A cheerful heart
“She has a real gift and a place in her heart for children and senior citizens,” said Richard Isenhour, longtime friend and fellow Greenwood Kiwanis member. She has a lot of empathy for others and she is just a very loving and caring person. She’s always got something going on for others rather than herself. I think I’m a better person from knowing her.”
“She’s always willing to do what needs to be done cheerfully,” added Julie Penoff, who knows Anthony from volunteering with her at church. “She’s always the first one to step up and do that. She’s an inspiration to me and a role model for those she works with. I consider her a friend.”
“I could call her up and say I’m having this difficulty and she offers help and suggestions,” said Karen Davis, who knows Anthony from their shared involvement with the ISO’s South Group and the Alliance Board of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. “She enjoys sharing and she is a very good mother, grandmother and wife.”
One of Anthony’s greatest joys is spending time with her family: her husband, Tom; her two daughters, Mary Eileen, 49, a Fishers resident, and Anne Marie, 46, who lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina; two grandsons, 19 and 21; and two granddaughters, 7 and 9.
Anthony, a retired teacher and resident of the Greenwood & Center Grove area for the past 50 years, said she learned the values of kindness and giving from her mother as a child.
“I believe in the Golden Rule and that you give back and you have an obligation to give back,” she said. “I used to tell my students to do one kind thing a day. It will change you. Students have come back to me in later years and say, ‘I remember you said to always be kind to people.’”
Small town beginnings
Anthony grew up in a small town in southern Indiana, Mount Vernon, and raised in the same house as the one her father was born. The home sat on a high hill near a river. She attended school in a four-room schoolhouse and spent summers reading in a cave (hiding, she said, to avoid doing chores), boating, eating ice cream and having fish frys with her family. She loved spending time with her grandmother, who she refers to as her biggest mentor, in Evansville, and her favorite aunt in Harmony.
When Anthony was a little older, she spent summers detasseled corn and received 60 cents an hour (90 cents on Sundays). The tedious experience “did make me realize I wanted to use my brain (as an adult),” she said.
Early on, she decided that she wanted to become an English teacher. She would become the first person in her family to attend college. “I wasn’t going to let anything mess up my future,” she said. “I never even considered (majoring in) anything else. I loved all my English classes. I loved journalism, speech and drama.”
As a teen, Anthony sang with a group of nine girlfriends. They named themselves the “Starlets”, performing pop, Great American songs and Christmas music throughout southern Indiana. “We wore these pretty dresses,” she recalled. “I had a lot of memories and was close to those girls. We had a lot of fun. We always sang, ‘Getting to Know You’ (a show tune from the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I). We opened with that song at our 50th high school class reunion.”
Anthony enrolled at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) in 1961. The first student she met on campus was a sophomore who was asked to carry the freshmen girls’ luggage when they arrived for orientation: Tom Anthony, who became her future husband. The two became fast friends, although they did not date until the end of his senior year/the end of her junior year.
In college, Anthony was attracted to the theater and enjoyed leads in many plays, including Uncle Vanya, Everyman and Sign of Jonah. She also minored in drama (along with speech and journalism) and majored in English. She graduated in 1965.
Career & family
Anthony married Tom after she graduated and began her teaching career at Beech Grove Junior High School until she and Tom started a family. When her two daughters were in preschool and Kindergarten, she began teaching journalism and broadcasting at Ft. Benjamin Harrison. Several years later, she was invited to teach at Franklin Community High School by the school’s superintendent. Although she enjoyed her job, the commute was rather long. She became acquainted with the principal at Center Grove High School and began teaching at the school, where she remained until retirement in 2001.
Anthony, who taught students on the yearbook staff, admitted to pushing them to perform their very best work, a surprise to some students who assumed taking yearbook as a class elective would be an easy ‘A’. She made the students rewrite their articles as needed, sometimes several times, all while encouraging them to hone their skills.
“They would fuss and get upset, but once the yearbook came out, they said, ‘you made me proud of my work.’ Two students went on to win the Pulliam at Franklin College and several former students are now teaching (journalism and English) at Center Grove. As a teacher, hopefully you’ve made some sort of impression on a student and recognize their potential.”
After Anthony’s retirement, she did not spend time relaxing at home. She quickly signed up to volunteer for nonprofits and has only increased her devotion to causes that matter to her.
A tireless volunteer
“She was president (of Greenwood Kiwanis) when I joined around 2000,” Isenhour said. “Since that time, I think she’s always been on the board, serving as president or vice president during those times. She’s also headed up several committees. She does a very good job of balancing her time.”
Karen Davis added that Anthony has spent tireless hours compiling photos and information for a 24-page book on the 60th anniversary of the ISO’s South Group.
“Mary Kay went into depth; she spent a long time talking with members, going through scrapbooks, pictures and spent many hours at the computer and going over that information back to the 60s and 70s,” Davis said. “She did that in four weeks, when it should have been six months. This is going to be a delightful booklet.”
Anthony has also won awards over the years, including Top 10 Indiana teacher in 2000, Kiwanian of the Year for the Indiana District in 2016, and, along with her husband, Tom, received the Gene and Joanne Sease Award by the University of Indianapolis last year. The award is named in honor of University President Emeritus Gene E. Sease and his wife, Joanne, and recognizes couples who contribute their time, talent and treasure to the university.
But you wouldn’t know that by speaking with Anthony.
“She doesn’t crave attention,” Davis said. “Some people do; they will say, ‘I did this or that’ but not Mary Kay, not at all. She is very quiet about her service and gets the job done, she doesn’t crave the attention. She could be bragging but doesn’t.”
5 Questions with Mary Kay Anthony
1) If you were on a deserted island and could only bring three things with you, what would they be? Water, books (including classics, fiction and mysteries; favorite authors include Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Tomas Hardy) and my husband, Tom.
2) If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money? We’d give most of it to nonprofits; at this point in our lives we don’t need a bunch of money.
3) What frightens you most? – what’s happening with our country, the lack of civility, being kind to one another, even with our differences doesn’t mean you can’t be kind to one another. I wonder What kind of world my grandkids are growing up.
4) What is your idea of perfect happiness? I’m very happy when I’m not looking at politics. I have a wonderful family, friends and church family. I love being in a position where I can volunteer. I appreciate how lucky I am.
5) What person, living or dead, do you most admire? My mother. My mother never said an unkind thing about anybody. She would say, ‘Honey, you don’t know what their circumstances are or what kind of life they’ve had. You can always be kind and respectful.’