Focus on Faith: Staying young by helping is volunteer’s formula

Elsie Maddaus will tell you she has her flaws: She’s selfish, nosy, and not well-versed in dealing w

Elsie Maddaus will tell you she has her flaws: She’s selfish, nosy, and not well-versed in dealing with today’s modern technology.

Of course, those sentiments are from her own mouth only. Finding anybody else to say something bad about her is just about impossible.

A native of Atco, N.J., and a Capital Region resident since just after World War II, Maddaus turned 90 in April and shows no signs of slowing down. You might run into her anywhere in the area, perhaps at the Schenectady County Historical Society, where she’s a trustee and a library volunteer, or the Baptist Health Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Scotia, where she also volunteers her time helping residents, many of them younger than she.

Honored at center

You could also see her at Union College, where she’s a regular at UCALL (Union College Academy for Lifelong Learning) classes, the Scotia-Glenville Senior Center, where she was recently honored by the Greater Glenville YMCA as its “active older adult” of the year, and the Scotia United Methodist Church, where she gives her time as church historian and librarian.

“I think I’m selfish,” said Maddaus, whose husband, Ingo Maddaus, a longtime professor at Union College, died in 2005. “I like to be with people and my husband never objected. He gave me a birthday card about 10 years ago and said how my keeping so busy was what kept me young. He said he never would have guessed that I was in my 80s. That made me very happy.”

Maddaus grew up going to an Episcopal church, but since moving to the Capital Region has found a happy home with the Methodists.

“My mother’s father was an Episcopal priest, and my father, who was a Methodist, died when I was 3, so the church was very important to my mother,” she said. “We would go three times every Sunday. If there had been an Episcopal Church in Galway when my husband and I first moved to the area, I probably would have gone there. But there wasn’t, so we went to a Methodist church and the people were wonderful.”

Late in his life, Ingo Maddaus converted to Catholicism, but his wife, by this time firmly ensconced at the Scotia United Methodist Church, wasn’t about to leave her home there.

“He started going to St. Joseph’s in Schenectady, and the priest there said a very good thing to him,” remembered Maddaus. “He told my husband to bring his wife to church whenever he wanted, and he also told him to go to my church sometimes. There was no pulling apart. We went to both churches and that helped me gain a greater appreciation of the Catholic church. I didn’t know that much about them. But I wouldn’t stop going to my church. If I miss a Sunday, I really feel like I missed something.”

The feeling is mutual.

“She’s very involved in our church as our historian and our librarian, and she’s also part of our welcoming committee,” said Howard Maloy, president of the board of trustees at SUMC. “She organizes our greeters, and she’s often the first person here on Sundays opening up the doors.”

Maloy said Maddaus also fills in for the church secretary whenever necessary, and she’s currently updating a list of church members who are shut-ins and need visits.

“She went on a few mission trips with us in her late 80s,” said Maloy. “She’s so full of energy all the time. I wish I had her energy.”

Work as librarian

After moving to upstate New York with her husband and raising four sons, Maddaus finished her college education, getting an English degree from Skidmore and a master’s degree in library science at the University at Albany. She’s written for the Daily Gazette and the Ballston Journal, providing news and notes from Galway and Charlton, but most of her adult life was spent in a library. For 20 years, she was the director of the Ballston Spa Public Library, and that kind of experience has helped her be a valuable volunteer at the historical society.

“I see evidence of her excellent librarianship every day,” said Katherine Chansky, librarian at the historical society’s Grems-Doolittle Library, where Maddaus worked for eight years before retiring in 1999. “She is brimming with knowledge about the library holdings and is quick to help out. She’s prompt and patient with all who seek her help. Elsie has more energy than most of us, and we’re very lucky to see her here in the library.”

Special project

One of Maddaus’ special projects at the historical society involves assembling a folder on Schenectady County churches and their history.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be finished, because churches are merging with one another and others are closing,” she said. “I told Katherine we’re going to have to keep up with all the changes, but I do love helping out there and I’m so grateful that they let me continue to come in. I realize I’m not much good at computers and things like that, but I love digging into things and digging up things. You might say I’m nosy that way.”

While Maddaus technically isn’t a volunteer at the Scotia-Glenville Senior Center, she’s always helping out, according to Senior Center coordinator Cindy Amell.

“The day we were going to give her the award, she didn’t know about it so I called her to make sure she was coming in,” said Amell. “She said she hadn’t planned on it because she had to volunteer at the Baptist Center that day, but I told her I really needed her help. So, she came right in and was ready to help, just like always.

“She really likes to help other people, and she’s just so bubbly, outgoing and enthusiastic, we all love her,” added Amell. “She’ll say how keeping busy gives her fellowship and that’s what she loves. She loves being social.”

Maddaus spends at least one day a week at the senior center taking an exercise class. Her instructor is Andrea Leahy.

“It’s amazing the incredible energy Elsie has, and she’s always willing to use it to help other people,” said Leahy. “She’s dedicated to helping others. I told her I’d love to see her more often, but she can’t come more than once a week, she’ll tell me. She’s too busy.”

Maddaus says she doesn’t have any secrets about her good health as she begins her 10th decade.

“I can’t explain it, but I must have all the good genes in my family,” she said. “I had a step-brother, three sisters and another brother and they’re all gone. I’m just grateful I can do as much as I can, and I wish I could do more.”

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