Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Always Reaching, and Always Helping

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Always Reaching, and Always Helping

Article excerpt

Since her immigrant parents had no money for college, after her graduation in 1942 Millie Belden did what any girl with a weakness for expensive purses and good shoes would do: She went to work.

"All I could think about was getting a job and having some money," says Belden, now 91, who still owns her first splurge -- a Coach bag that set her back $100. "Even after I married I always worked because we were never able to have children and there was no reason to stay home."

For the next 40-plus years, Belden was employed by the state of Indiana. It was while watching the guys from statistics playing euchre during breaks -- no girls allowed -- that she first noticed her late husband, a man she can only describe as "the most wonderful person in the world."

"I can't think of how lucky I was to have him," she says of Raymond Belden, whom she nursed through 15 years of Alzheimer's until his death in 2010. "He was just the opposite of me. He didn't believe in arguing. He'd just stand there and salute me."

It was Ray who convinced her to retire at 58 and move to Florida, where he could indulge year-round in his love of golf. In 1986, they moved to a two-bedroom split-level condo on the edge of a course he played almost daily.One day, when a donation plea came from All Faiths Food Bank, she sent in a contribution and checked the box asking for volunteers.

"Because I'd worked all my life, I'd never been able to do anything charitable for anyone else," she says. "I figured it was time."

She joined a team that packed boxes every Monday morning. It's the same team -- though she's the only original member left -- that packs boxes Monday mornings today. Over the years, she developed such a camaraderie with her teammates that she told her brother-in- law early on she couldn't possibly be doing anyone any good because she was having too much fun.

But one Monday 20 years ago, she came home from her shift and couldn't find Ray. The neighbor said he'd come home from playing golf and, finding the condo empty, had gone to look for her. …

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