As St. Patrick's Day approaches, 86-year-old Mary Murphy of Ellicott City is preparing to don her apron for the 14th year in a row to raise money for Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore.
This time, the chief cook and organizer of four fund-raisers a year will be making 30 pounds of turkey salad and baking 200 biscuits from scratch for an annual card party and luncheon for about 100 people.
She used to do the cooking from the small cottage on the Heartland Retirement Community's premises, where she lives. Now she uses a room -- affectionately referred to by personnel as "Mary's Kitchen" -- that houses a refrigerator and stove bought by a committee of Heartland residents.
Mrs. Murphy downplays her efforts. "It's no big deal," she said.
Her daily routine consists of planning menus, mapping out floor plans and recruiting volunteers for the events.
Besides planning the March event, Mrs. Murphy is organizing another hospital benefit, a May Post-Preakness Party.
zTC Her other fund-raising efforts benefit Heartland employees. She plans a September crab feast and a Christmas buffet dinner and flea market that raise money for Christmas bonuses given by residents to the employees.
All Mrs. Murphy's fund-raisers are held at the retirement community with the management's blessings. The Heartland property was once owned by the sisters of Bon Secours.
"Because of the close personal ties with Bon Secours, we have . . . found the fund-raisers to be a nice way to advertise the Heartlands, without saying, 'Hey, look at us,' " said Curtis Grothmann, executive director of the retirement community. "The events have become an activity that makes a more active and festive community."
Since Mrs. Murphy's initial fund-raising event for the hospital in 1981 -- a cocktail party held in her son's home in Catonsville that brought in $100 -- she has raised thousands of dollars.
"It's a lot of fun," she said. "Last year, we made $11,000; the year before, $13,000."
Before her volunteer activities for the hospital, Mrs. Murphy had worked 26 years for the draft board. She was chief clerk of the local Board 33 in Catonsville and tried to protect draft records from being destroyed by the Catonsville Nine, a group of anti-war activists who invaded the office during the Vietnam War.
Putting those "sad times" behind her, Mrs. Murphy directed most of her energy to helping with church work and Catholic charities after she retired in 1972. She joined Bon Secours' Women's Auxiliary after her husband's death in 1980.
Her association with the hospital began with her first visit there, in 1937, when she had an appendectomy. She also gave birth to her son and daughter there.
She developed an appreciation for the charity work that the sisters were doing for the poor.
"I spent much of my life at that hospital," she said. "I worked in the gift shop, pushed the cart around and attended meetings."
Since she believes that the auxiliary is "on the way out" because of the increasing numbers of women in the work force and "no young people to replace us," Mrs. Murphy remains active in the organization.
She became one of Heartland's first residents eight years ago, and within a year she organized the residents' special-occasion committee to raise money for the Christmas bonuses for the staff, including the high school students who work part time serving meals at the facility.
"Instead of passing the hat, we decided to have fund-raisers," Mrs. Murphy said. "A second reason for forming this committee was to give the residents a chance to come together as a community by working on a project.
"It was also a way to offer people who come to the events an opportunity to see Heartlands."
The results of the committee's work are two annual affairs: the September crab feast, which last year drew 200 people and raised $2,000, and a Christmas buffet and flea market that attracted about the same number of people and made about $5,000.
In December, the $7,000 was distributed to the employees.
The committee sponsors additional dinners and small celebrations that are for occasions such as honoring management personnel or giving a gift to an employee who is leaving or getting married.
Mrs. Murphy credits the Heartland executive chef, Michael Varacalle, for "working closely with me on everything."
"He helps just as much with the hospital fund-raisers as he does with the Heartland's affairs," she said.
When asked why she has devoted so much time to charity, she replied: "That is my interest in life. . . .
"If you can, you should contribute something. I can't do much, but I can do this little bit of cooking."