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Council’s oldest volunteer hands over the reins

Giving back to the city of Ipswich comes naturally to Theresa Russell.

From volunteering at the art gallery to delivering Meals on Wheels, and working with council’s Friends of the Library program, Theresa says she’s enjoyed all of her volunteer work over the past 40 years.

“This city has been good to us, so I wanted to do something to give back,” Theresa said.

She describes the warm and friendly community who welcomed her and her husband when they moved here in 1976.

“I knew nothing about Ipswich when I moved here, except Amberley because my husband was in the air crew,” she says.

“But I wanted a place that we’d get to know the people.

“Big cities aren’t the same- You’d never get to know the people like you would in a small provincial place like Ipswich was back in those days.

“We still had steam trains then.”

Theresa joined Ipswich Central Library as a volunteer with the Friends of the Library group in 2008.

“It’s been mostly manual labour,” Theresa said with a mischievous smile.

It’s that wicked sense of humour that library staff have always appreciated, along with Theresa’s ability to organise a whole team of volunteers at library events.

“When I started I was packing bags with Books for Babies, and I would say, ‘Everyone get in a line. This one can do this, and this one can do that’.

“I was always a good organiser. If someone is having a party, and needs an extra six chairs, three tables and sandwiches for everyone, it’s not difficult to get it done.

“And it’s no different organising here in the library, you just have more room to do it.”

Theresa packed bags for Council’s early literacy initiative, Books for Babies, when she first started as a library volunteer.

In recent years, Theresa has worked mostly on setting up for library events.

“I set the table, put the chairs out, match up the table cloths, all the bits and pieces to make it look nice,” she says.

“When I first came, everyone was using china cups, but I said that’s no good, because everyone then has to wash up the cups, so they changed to the paper coffee cups. Now it’s much better.”

While she says the catering is always of a high standard, she is particular about what should be served.

“The food is lovely, but I think you shouldn’t serve a ‘wet sandwich’ with salad or tomato juice running all out,” Theresa says.

“You need a dry sandwich that doesn’t fall apart if you’re holding that while having a cup of coffee.”

Theresa says the best part of working with the library has been listening to the different speakers at library events, as well as the friendships she’s made over the years.

“The same crowds seem to turn up so there’s lots of familiar faces, and we all mix together and catch up while washing the plates.”

An avid book-lover, Theresa says she will read “anything and everything”, but particularly loves learning more about Queensland’s history.

Despite being a few years shy of 100, Theresa still lives by herself and regularly travels on her own.

“I realised the other day that my son is now 70, and it suddenly dawned on me that I am getting old,” Theresa says.

But while Theresa’s work as a volunteer may be drawing to a close, she will still remain a familiar face as a member of Friends of Ipswich Libraries.

“Oh I’ll still come, even if I’m not a volunteer, I won’t just sit at home.”

Also read:

>> How an Ipswich girl got to meet her hero

>> Keeping tradition alive at Marburg

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