If anyone in Westport is ever in need of a grandmother, they have one in Verna MacDonald. The 83-year-old has been taking care of the community since 1999, and although she recently “retired,” she shows no sign of slowing down.
“I enjoy sitting down and watching TV,” MacDonald said. “But just because you’re elderly it doesn’t mean you have to sit in a chair all day.”
She has a warm smile, and visitors can’t leave her house without first receiving a hug. But under the kind, nurturing exterior, MacDonald is driven by intensity and fire. She’s a woman who knows how to get things done — organizing blood drives, collecting trucks full of food for the local food bank and running the Westport Senior House for 13 years.
She has a sharp mind for detail. She can remember the exact amount of money it cost to build the 2005 addition to the Senior House. She keeps track of her awards, photos, thank you cards and newspaper clippings — of which there are several — in a scrapbook pieced together by a friend.
“You get so many of these things they’re hard to keep track of,” MacDonald said. “I enjoy getting these things, don’t get me wrong. But they’re not a necessity in my book. I just do what I feel I need to do.”
Westport Senior House
MacDonald first got involved in the community in 1999 after her husband died unexpectedly. She turned to the Senior House for support and quickly became an integral part of the house’s operations.
“I guess my official statement is that the Lord pushed me through the door and he wouldn’t let me out,” MacDonald said. “It was a five-day-a-week, sometimes seven-day job. I figure I cooked 7,995 meals there.”
In her first year working at the Senior House, MacDonald had the ramp at the front of the building replaced. At the time, she was the house’s secretary, and the ramp was dedicated to her deceased husband, Donald MacDonald.
MacDonald later became the director of the Senior House, and in 2005 she undertook her biggest project: a complete re-model of the Senior House. The facility, which was originally a two-bedroom house, opened as the Senior House in 1992 after previously being used as a mayor’s residence and a courthouse. A new wing was added to the house in what used to be a vacant lot.
The project was funded by community donations and a federal grant procured by former Congressman Norm Dicks, whom MacDonald calls “a dear friend.” The Senior House re-opened in November of 2005, with Dicks attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
But as a director, MacDonald wasn’t just involved in large-scale projects. She was there constantly, preparing the lunches that are served every weekday, organizing rummage sales and having fun with the other senior citizens.
While working at the Senior House, MacDonald didn’t just serve the senior citizen community — she took care of people young and old. While under her guidance, the Senior House started an Adopt-A-Family program, providing gifts to families in need during the holiday season.
MacDonald retired from the Senior House about a year ago, and the building was re-named the Verna MacDonald building in her honor.
A patriotic citizen
Among her various Westport volunteer roles, MacDonald works with the American Legion and is a VFW Auxiliary member. She was also a member of the local United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, which had disbanded, collected data for the 2010 United States Census, and volunteers for the American Red Cross.
She and other American Legion members perform flag folding ceremonies, which take five people — four people to fold the flag, and one person to read out loud about what the folds mean. MacDonald is responsible for the reading portion of the ceremony.
“That’s one thing we try to do for anybody who requests it,” MacDonald said. “So if you ever need a flag folding ceremony, you know who to come to.”
She’s also involved in state politics, playing the role of an active citizen. She’s interacted considerably with former Congressman Dicks, who presented her with an American flag that once flew over the White House.
“I in turn gave the fire department the use of my flag to use on special occasions so it doesn’t get ruined,” MacDonald said.
MacDonald attended events at the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia while former Gov. Chris Gregoire was in office. She also has a couple of hand-signed notes from Gregoire — including one congratulating MacDonald on her 2012 retirement.
“Verna, you are a true fixture and unsung hero in the Westport community and have given so much to seniors, veterans and other worthy causes over the years. We applaud your commitment to making an active contribution to your community, and we know your kindness and generosity will long be remembered with gratitude,” the note reads.
She takes her role as an active political citizen very seriously, and hopes to meet with current Gov. Jay Inslee personally to air some of her grievances.
“I’ve talked to him before and he knows me, so he’s going to hear from me,” MacDonald said.
Life before Westport
MacDonald is so involved in the Westport community that one would assume she’s a native. She’s originally from Kansas City, Mo., and has lived in many cities in the western United States.
MacDonald married her first husband right after high school and moved to California. The couple had five children together — some of whom have their own children. The two later divorced.
She married her second husband, Donald, shortly after and moved to Spokane. After 20 years in the city, the couple moved to the country to breed rabbits. They closed the business after feed prices skyrocketed and moved to Westport in 1987.
“We lived a wonderful life together for 32 years, and had only one argument,” MacDonald said.
While living in Westport, she and her husband took advantage of the beach, spending hours combing the shoreline looking for agates. She hasn’t taken up the hobby again since her husband died.
“I just don’t feel comfortable down there anymore because it was our place,” MacDonald said.
Still planning ahead
Even at the age of 83, MacDonald is still making plans for the future. She has a list of things she would like to do in coming years: visit the Liberty Bell, see the guards change at Arlington National Cemetery, sit in on a session of Congress and visit the Statue of Liberty.
“These are just wishes, not necessities,” MacDonald said. “I think I’ve done a lot of what I need to do.”