Mission Lab 2018

95-year-old Disaster Relief volunteer: ‘You’re never too old … if God is in it.’

Mary Katie Riddle turns 96 on Sept. 22

September 19th, 2017 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas—When 95-year-old Mary Katie Riddle of Wimberley spied stacks of soiled Cambro containers, she did not hesitate.

The containers needed washing before they could be refilled with food prepared by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief  (SBTC DR) mass feeding team at First Baptist Pflugerville on Sept. 5.

Riddle, who turns 96 on Sept. 22, plunged in with both hands.

“I started washing. I was doing the part where you pick them up and put them in the washer,” Riddle recalled. “We went through all 600 containers. We just had a good time out there. I would do it again tomorrow.”

Riddle admitted that the DR staff at First Pflugerville didn’t know quite where to place her when she arrived with other volunteers from her home church of 29 years, First Baptist Wimberley.

They first assigned Riddle to assist another volunteer with the indoor task of counting out mustard and mayonnaise packets, but she decided it was not a two-person job and walked out to the hot parking lot where feeding operations were set up under large yellow tents.

The Cambros disinfected by Riddle would be used by the Red Cross to deliver hot meals to Hurricane Harvey evacuees sheltering in Austin.

“Someone always kept wanting to relieve me. I said no, I am not going to volunteer for things I can’t do,” Riddle said.

Volunteering is what she has done for over nine decades.

Riddle’s involvement in disaster relief caps a lifetime of commitment to serving others. She has always been a “woman on mission,” she explained.

Riddle’s parents met in post-World War I Germany, where her father fought in the war and then served in the United States Army of occupation.

Riddle said her father enlisted at 16, lying about his age and serving five years. He met her mother in Germany, they married, and then Riddle “came along.” With an American father, she was “automatically a citizen of the U.S.”

Riddle’s German-born mother brought her to Texas as a baby, and the family settled in Dallas.

“Mother was Catholic. My dad was Lutheran. And I’m a Baptist,” Riddle said, recalling her mother’s determination to learn English. The Latin masses of the Catholic church challenged both mother and daughter.

A neighbor invited Riddle and her brother to Sunday school at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Dallas.

Riddle’s parents never became Baptists, but they made sure their children attended church. “[My mother] dressed me up Sundays and made sure I went because that’s where I wanted to go. I loved church,” Riddle mused.

“I’ve been a missionary all my life,” Riddle added. Even as a youngster, she visited nursing homes.

After Pearl Harbor, Riddle worked for the government and joined the Marine Reserves.

Eventually, she earned degrees in teaching from the University of Corpus Christi (now Texas A&M Corpus Christi) and arts and humanities from Texas A&I (now Texas A&M) Kingsville.

She became a secondary English teacher in Corpus Christi, raised two daughters who also became teachers, retired from public school in the late 1980s and relocated to Wimberley with her husband.

After her retirement from teaching, the Riddles volunteered with the International Mission Board, spending a year in Brazil, where Riddle taught missionary children and her husband assisted in building churches.

Following her husband’s death in 1996, Riddle went on five short-term mission trips of six weeks each to China, Russia, Germany, Jamaica—mostly doing vacation Bible schools or teaching ESL (English as a Second Language)—although she also worked with orphans in Kenya.

As for Disaster Relief, 10 years ago at age 86, Riddle became certified in cooking and feeding DR.

“I got me a nice yellow cap,” she chuckled. Pflugerville marked her first opportunity to deploy.

Riddle said she would like to accompany the FBC Wimberley DR team as they go to clean out a large house in Southeast Texas. Only the long drive makes her hesitate.

“But give me some more of those Cambros, I’ll wash them,” she exclaimed.

When asked about her accomplishments, Riddle laughed, “You need 96 years to do all this. You go from 1921 to 2017, that’s a lot of years.

“The only message I have to older people: Get out of your rocking chairs. It is wonderful what you can do when your heart is in it. I had a great day in Pflugerville.

“You are never too old if … God is with you. I am happy I could do it. I would encourage anybody to volunteer. … Don’t worry about age. Find what you can do.

“God is good. He opened the door. When you get to be 90-plus, people want to wait on you. You don’t want to hear that.”

Mike Northen, education pastor of FBC Pflugerville, called Riddle “a testimony to the calling of wanting to serve. Some people can’t believe she is still working in DR at age 96,” proclaiming Riddle’s dedication to service a challenge to others.

Riddle, who lives independently on four acres near Wimberley and still drives, said she regretted never getting to teach history.

Instead, at nearly 96, she has made history as a DR volunteer.