High Drama: 82-Year-Old Marie Cameron Will Be Among Those Going ‘Over The Edge’ for Two Good Causes
“I have lived a great life. This is how I give back,” says a committed volunteer. A transplanted Canadian from Nova Scotia who has lived in numerous places in this country, she finally plopped down in State College three years ago, to be near a daughter and granddaughter.
Marie Cameron, 82, represents one of this area’s populations: a family member, usually older, who moves to Centre County because of residency by one or more family members. In the nicest possible way, they are hangers-on.
It didn’t take Cameron long to become the volunteer coordinator for State College area’s Interfaith Human Services. And this year, she was designated its’ Rose Cologne Volunteer of the Year.
Active in more ways than one, Cameron, who was a long-distance runner in her youth, now walks from her apartment at Mount Nittany Residences to the Boalsburg Farmers Market. (“It’s only over there,” she says, pointing from her living room.) Not afraid of heights, she enthuses over the tree-top view from her seventh-floor apartment,
She’s poised to climb several stories higher.
On Thursday, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., IHS and Bellefonte’s Faith Centre will sponsor a first-time, eye-popping fundraiser for Centre County at the 12-story Fraser Centre, 219 West Beaver Avenue, in downtown State College.
Cameron will be one of at least 77 volunteers, who – tethered for safety and physical ability – will each wear a hard hat, hold a guideline and walk down (“rappel” is the approved term) from the roof to terra firma. Because of covered entrances on the South Fraser Street and Beaver Avenue sides, the rappel location will be in back, above Miller Alley.
“She signed-up the first night,” Viki Stumbers, IHS’ development and program coordinator, says of Cameron.
“If an 82-year-old can do it, anyone can,” says Cameron. After her, 98-year-old George Etzweiler signed on.
The new, precipitously-named event, “Over The Edge,” has been presented in the United States and beyond for 15 years. Its for-profit company (based, coincidently, in Nova Scotia) offers the adventure activity principally to nonprofit organizations.
Unaffected will be IHS’ annual Wishing Well holiday bell-ringing. Donations from both will ease day-to-day life for neighbors faced with tough times short- and long-term.
The idea of holding the new fundraiser in State College came from the Bellefonte group – which can point to mayor Tom Wilson as a rappeller.
“We don’t have a tall enough building,” says idea initiator Nicole Summers, executive director of 15-year-old FaithCentre. Also, she says, the fundraiser “was too big to do alone.”
This will be the first fundraising partnership by the two agencies “serving hundreds of people throughout Centre County,” says Summers. Sometimes, they’re the same residents.
The services offered include:
FaithCentre – supportive Thrift Shop (providing free clothing when appropriate), free coat day, free back-to-school event, emergency aid against eviction and utility termination, Bellefonte Food Bank, Centre County Pet Food Pantry;
IHS – Centre County (heating) Fuel Bank, free used furniture and appliances, emergency financial assistance, budgeting assistance leading to self-reliance.
Fifty-year-old IHS grew out of Christian Mission, a united help effort by four State College congregations (University Baptist & Brethren and the former Diakonia Presbyterian; memories conflict on the others.) Within a few years, the houses of worship grew in number, in services and in affiliation – “Interfaith” replaced “Christian.” There are now 30 religious institutions, each with a representative on the IHS board. Cameron represents Congregation Brit Shalom.
Over The Edge isn’t coming here free. Each agency has paid $9,000, covering in part, insurance, equipment, team previews, and safety supervision.
“If we spend money, we make more money,” says Summers. “It’s worth the risk.”
Over The Edge expects each rappeller to donate/collect donations amounting to $1,000. While Cameron worried about reaching that amount, she ended up surpassing it – as she usually does.
Over the decades, “I’ve received a lot of awards,” Cameron says. Poetry, psychology, botany, history, and piano have all played roles in her life. A pianist as a youngster, she won all of her Nova Scotia competitions. “I adored Bach”. At age 9, she started writing poetry. The epic poet (poetic storyteller) had one of three books nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in the mid-1980s. Another won a Poetry Society of Texas award. Her email address starts with “poet.”
Growing up, she attended Edgehill boarding school and London’s Royal School of Music, before becoming the first family member to go to college. She entered Saint Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, at age 15. Graduating at 19, she came with her parents to this country.
Before her Ph.D. in psychology (plus exploring medieval history) at the University of Southern California, she dug in Florida swampland for a member of the iris family; parts of ickthianemastulas – ixia and nemastylis –“are used in heart disease research.”
She ultimately had a 20-year career as coordinator and counselor at Texas Christian University. Along the way, she volunteered at the Irving, Texas, Historical Society and Arts Center, did Heart to Hand AIDS project work, worker training in Fort Worth, and Upward Bound summer teaching. After being a TCU program mentor for first-generation undergraduates intent on grad school, she received letters from former students, which she prizes.
Previewing an Over The Edge event in Harrisburg, Summers saw apprehension at first but, when rappellers reached the bottom, “People were so excited.”
IHS executive director Wendy Vinhage remains upbeat, explaining, “We wanted to do something different and fun to raise awareness of the services.”
On the opposite side of South Fraser Street – in Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza – there will be brochures on agency programs; on the Fraser Center side, drama to help finance them.
Nadine Kofman is a native Centre Countian and historian.