Mary Lou McAllister
May 15, 2013 08:00PM
● By Anonymous
An unquestionable doer, Mary Lou has earned her rank as a fundraising magnate in and around St. Michaels. She may be best known for spearheading the esteemed Christmas in St. Michaels—which began as a fundraiser to bring child-care services to the Bay Hundred area— but her influence extends far beyond that single accomplishment. Whether she’s at the helm of an effort to build a community pool in which children can learn to swim, or organizing annual fundraisers for nonprofits that serve area youth—like CASA of Talbot and Dorchester Counties (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children who are abused, neglected, or abandoned)—Mary Lou does it with an indomitable spirit.
“I think I’m probably good at ideas; I’m probably good at organizing; and I’m probably a good people person,” she says. “Probably” is a gross understatement.
From concept to completion, Mary Lou is right in the thick of whatever cause is on her agenda. Her “can-do” attitude is contagious, especially when paired with her characteristic exuberance, making it easy to see why other community-minded residents are quick to join in her efforts. It is only through the work of many, she says, that her undertakings turn out successful.
Always upbeat, Mary Lou speaks with a quick cadence reflective of her on-the-go lifestyle. And at 84 years old, she’s not slowing down anytime soon. “Don’t forget to mention that after-school program,” she advises, excitedly, midway through our conversation. “We hope to start that by the beginning of September.”
Designed for children in grades one to three, the program is centered around improving reading levels at a critical time in a student’s education. “It has been documented that children from grades one to three learn to read. After grade three, they read to learn,” Mary Lou says. “There are children in St. Michaels who may begin to fail if they do not receive extra help, and we are certain that our after-school program will reach these children before they are left behind.”
The after-school program is a perfect example of how Mary Lou operates. “It starts with a need, I think,” says the former sales manager, school board member, political workshop organizer, and docent at Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh’s home. “You see a need and you think it’s a good thing and you try to raise the funds to meet that need. And that’s mostly what I do, working with a group of friends.” Some of the bigger needs Mary Lou has helped address through her fundraising efforts include providing a place for children to learn to swim—a necessity in water-laden Talbot County—in the form of the Bay Hundred Community Pool in St. Michaels.
The pool opened eight years ago on Memorial Day, in a setting that Mary Lou describes as “so Norman Rockwell America. I think building that pool was very special. It brought our town together in every way you could imagine,” she says. “Every single person wanted that pool.” Similar sentiment surrounded the push to bring Easton Day Care Center (now Critchlow Adkins Children’s Center) to St. Michaels, where adequate child-care services did not exist in the late ’80s, Mary Lou says. Christmas in St. Michaels—the fundraiser behind the initiative—started off modestly enough. Mary Lou and a group of friends from her church (Christ Episcopal Church) planned to use the town’s “Colonial American ambience” to attract tourists with a walking tour of local homes.
“We had no idea how much this thing was going to take off,” Mary Lou says, looking back. “By the time it was all said and done, we had a parade, a gala, all kinds of things through town—not just a walking tour.”
Now in its 27th year, Christmas in St. Michaels has raised more than $1 million in support of Critchlow Adkins (on the grounds of St. Michaels Elementary School) and other local nonprofits.
In addition to organizing fundraisers, Mary Lou has served on the boards of the Academy Art Museum, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and CASA of Talbot and Dorchester Counties; and has been an active participant in her church outreach program, serving for 15 years on the board of the church-supported Children’s Home Foundation. In recognition of all her contributions to the Bay Hundred area, Mary Lou was honored with a town-wide celebration in St. Michaels last June, during what was officially dubbed Mary Lou McAllister Day. It was the first event in years that came to be without any help from Mary Lou.