SVDP celebrates Yunek’s 99th birthday and her 20 years as a SVDP volunteer

Other volunteers, now friends, greet Agnes and wish her a happy 99th birthday at her party. Photo courtesy of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.


The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) held a birthday party for Agnes Yunek at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on her 99th birthday – April 23, 2024. “We celebrated with her since she had volunteered with our program since we opened in 2003,” said SVDP Director of Outreach Sue Norenberg. “She is such a special lady.”
“Agnes is amazing!” said Lisa Breaman, “Agnes is truly loved and inspired by those who know her and volunteered with her.”
“She’s amazing! If you know her, you know a saint!” said Sue Schiher, another SVDP volunteer who became a close friend to Agnes. Over the years, they shared rides to SVDP and built a friendship based on their mutual faith and similar interests and hobbies.
Like anyone who has lived for nearly a century, Agnes has faced challenges through her years – the kinds of challenges that have a profound effect on one’s spirit and can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation – but Agnes fought back against those feelings, with faith and a desire to “help other people” by becoming a volunteer. Volunteering helped get Agnes out of the house, interacting with other people regularly, and doing something for others, which kept her active and engaged in her community.
She isn’t the type of woman who was going to let the challenges of life take her down.
In their retirement years, after Agnes retired from a manufacturing job, Agnes and her husband, Ben, moved into Merrill. The parents of one son, Jim, Agnes had longed for more children, but it wasn’t to be. She does have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but they don’t all live here in town. So when Ben died unexpectedly in 2010, it left Agnes feeling isolated and alone. Her Catholic faith and volunteering helped keep her going.
A cancer survivor, Agnes suffered a significant hearing loss from the chemotherapy she underwent to battle her cancer. She overcomes this challenge using technology – a teletype phone and a speech-to-text app – that enables her to read what people are saying or asking rather than actually hearing the words herself.
Agnes has a strong work ethic and isn’t one to stay idle for long. Perhaps that – and her strong faith – are two of the secrets to her long life. She attends daily Mass when it is available and “prays the rosary daily while she rides her stationary bike for five miles,” Breaman said.
She also “irons all of her sheets and most of her laundry after they line-dry outside once a week” in addition to baking homemade apple pies and pumpkin bars for events and to share with other volunteer friends and even EMT’s who sometimes visit her when responding to her occasional LifeLine calls, Breaman said.
Agnes has also always loved to read. “I buy a bunch of books from SVDP, read them all, and then bring them back to sell,” Agnes said.
And she loves to write lots of cards and letters, writing to family and friends and just other people “who are in need of well-wishes and prayers,” Breaman said. Over the years, Breaman said Agnes has also embroidered many, many dish towels she’s given away as gifts; made “clown dolls” for newborns; and “washed and ironed baby clothes and cleaned up dolls she then sent to the Indian missions for their little ones until the cost of postage made it too expensive to continue this act of kindness (now she sents a monetary donation instead).”
As a volunteer at the SVDP Thrift Store, Agnes worked at the store 2-3 days each week pricing clothing, mending clothing items in need of repair that were still “too good to throw out,” and washing other items that were still good enough to use as rags, preparing them as “rag bundles” to sell. “I don’t throw out much,” Agnes said. Her long life also prepared her to be thrifty, to waste as little as possible, and to be a good steward of all that was entrusted to her. Her faith has impacted every aspect of her life, and is evident in this mindset, as well.
“SVDP has been so grateful for Agnes’s 20 years of volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store!” Breaman said. “She is a living, senior example of the cognitive and physical health benefits of volunteering and is beating isolation by maintaining and building relationships.”
“God bless you, Agnes!” she said. “You are a blessing to us all! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”
Currently, Agnes has had to take a break from her volunteering at the SVDP Thrift Store “due to health issues,” Norenberg said. But that doesn’t mean she’s idle. “Every day I am busy because I have all my prayers to say,” Agnes said. “When you get older and closer to dying … you say more prayers!”

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