Mary Baker came to Home Federal Bank on Foothills Mall Drive on Tuesday, Nov. 23, excited to receive a check for $2,500 to be donated in her name to Alzheimer’s Association. She had been selected Blount County’s Hometown Hero by the bank, and her favorite charity would be the beneficiary.
At the presentation, however, Mary was able to pass on to the Alzheimer’s Association a check for $12,500, as the 14-year-old learned she was not only the county winner, but the overall winner of the bank’s new program, earning her charity an additional $10,000.
The Hometown Heroes program spotlights ordinary people who do extraordinary things for others and their community, said Home Federal Bank president Dale Keasling. The bank received more than 175 nominations, and eight winners were selected by a panel of judges to represent different parts of Home Federal Bank’s service area in Knox, Anderson, Blount and Sevier counties. A $2,500 donation is made in each honoree’s name to the nonprofit of their choice, and an overall winner of the eight finalists received an additional $10,000 donation made in their name.
“There are so many great people that selflessly do an incredible amount of good for our community and never get the credit they deserve,” said Keasling. “Mary Baker’s example of service is particularly inspirational, and we are honored to be able to shine the spotlight on a teenager with such volunteer spirit.”
The winners ranged from Mary, the youngest at 14, to a 92-year-old man in Knox County. This is the first year for the Hometown Hero program.
Mary has volunteered with the Alzheimer’s Association since age 5, when she saw the effects of the disease on her great-grandmother. Baker has participated in the Foothills Memory Walk Challenge and held several fundraisers for the organization each year; including letter-writing campaigns; placing coin containers at area businesses; selling bracelets and pins and speaking to groups about the disease. Her team, Mary’s Angels, raised $997 for the Foothills Memory Walk this year.
In addition to the Alzheimer’s Association, Mary donates time to the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. Through youth programs at Armona Baptist Church, she has worked to raise funds for mission trips and has gone on one such trip to New Mexico to help residents in homes with dirt floors, leaking roofs and no indoor plumbing.
At William Blount High School Ninth Grade Academy, where Mary has a 4.2 grade point average, she is Student Council president and supports Toys for Tots. In middle school, she was active in both the Union Grove Builders Club and Beta Club, logging over 100 hours of community service between those groups.
Her inspiration, Mary said, comes from her grandmother, Linda Baker.
“It’s good to help,” Mary said. “My granny does a lot of volunteer work, and I’ve learned watching her. And I remember my great-grandmother and how she didn’t know who I was when I would visit her. I wanted to do something to fight her disease.”
Mary was nominated by Carolyn Jensen on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Janice Wade-Whitehead, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of Eastern Tennessee Chapter, accepted the check on behalf of the organization.
“This is just wonderful,” said Wade-Whitehead, who also did not know until the presentation that Mary was also the overall winner. “There are heroes who walk among us but don’t get credit for the things they do, yet they are critical to our organization. We are so blessed to have volunteers like Mary and businesses like Home Federal who give of their time and money to these important causes. The need is even greater for those we serve, and we are so appreciative of these gifts.”
Mary is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Baker, Jr., and the granddaughter of Kenneth and Linda Baker, all of Maryville.
The other Home Federal Bank Hometown Heroes and their charities are:
n Samuel E. Hardman, representing North Knox County and benefiting HonorAir Knoxville;
n Phyllis Henry, representing South Knox County and benefiting Friends of the Smokies;
n Rita Layman, representing West Knox County and benefiting Mission of Hope;
n Gwen McKenzie, representing East Knox County and benefiting the Knoxville Area Urban League;
n Christopher Moore, representing Sevier County and benefiting Knox Area Rescue Ministries;
n Lisa Morris, representing downtown Knoxville and benefiting the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville;
n Betty Smith, representing Anderson County and benefiting the First Baptist Church of Clinton Christian Service Center.