Mark and Mary O’Riley said they can’t do the work they do without the help of others. Creston Community High School is recognizing that many missions in Creston couldn’t do without the help of the O’Rileys.
The CCHS hall of fame selection committee has named them the distinguished alumni and contributors for 2019.
The O’Rileys graduated from Creston High School in 1966 as Mark O’Riley and Mary Baker. Mary was recognized, even back then, as the “most representative girl of the class of 1966,” having served as a student council member and on National Honor Society. They got married soon after graduation.
The O’Rileys are no strangers to recognition. They have been named Creston Citizens of the Year in 2018, received the Friend of Conservation and Spirit of St. Malachy awards in 2019 and Mary was inducted into the Union County 4-H Hall of Fame and the Iowa State 4-H Hall of Fame in 2015.
When asked how adding the CCHS Hall of Fame to the list would change things for them, Mary answered, “After the first one it didn’t change us ... It’s very much appreciate because we know that people in the community can see the good that’s being done.”
When they got the letter about the Hall of Fame, Mary opened the letter. Mark said he immediately thought of all of the other people who deserve to be nominated.
“My first reaction was to think about all the people in Creston who do stuff above and beyond,” Mark said.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s not needed,” Mary added. “We’re not any different than anyone else in the Creston Community that sees a need and goes about getting it done.”
The O’Rileys have been filling needs for many years. After their daughter Misty O’Riley West died, Mark began working with the Appalachia Service Project eventually helping lead teams on missions to improve the lives of those in the Appalachia Mountains. He has gone on the mission for 20 years in a row.
Mary has been involved in service since age 11, playing the organ at church accompanying choirs and soloists for more than 50 years. She serves on leadership boards, both at the church and in the community, and has provided the organizational leadership for the Creston Area Food Pantry and the O’Riley Center.
Mary worked for Iowa State University Extension and has been an active volunteer for 4-H and the Union County Fair. She holds a masters degree in health care administration and graduated from Pathways Theological Education Program in Atlanta, serving in social work, chemical dependency counseling, running a half-way house and, now, serving as pastor of the Prescott United Church Disciples of Christ.
Mark has worked with the food pantry in Creston since 2014, beginning with a small church-run organization and evolving into the Creston Area Food Pantry, which delivered 233,195 pounds of food to nearly 5,000 households around Creston in 2019.
Mark and Mary not only provide the building for the food pantry, they do quite a bit of the labor, too. Mark drives the truck to pick up food at the Food Bank of Iowa every week. They pick up bread at grocery stores in Creston for the CAFP and deliver it to neighboring counties’ food pantries.
The pantry has a standing arrangement with St. Malachy where a class comes each week to unload the truck. Mary said the students are excited when it is their turn to help. She tells the story of one little girl who went home from helping and informed her mother that they were going to begin helping distribute the food on Sundays — because it is needed. The little girl is now in high school, and still involved, Mary said.
Mark said, “People are surprised by the size and scope of it.”
“You can see by the annual report that every year this has grown,” Mary said. “The (number of) people in the community that volunteer (has grown) ... Everybody is needed.”
The O’Rileys said they feel like the volunteers who work with them are family. Each Sunday after the food distribution, they host a potluck meal where the volunteers can relax and get to know one another, adding to that bond of family.
Their dog Sally, who adopted Mark on an ASP trip, is well-known. Sometimes when they go on trips to deliver food, Sally has friends that Mary doesn’t know.
As a part of the food pantry’s service this year, the O’Rileys have expanded to weekend meals for students — the backpack program — which they deliver each week to the school. Sally often goes along.
Mark spoke of how when he delivers the meals to the school, students just spring into action to help.
“I started taking those backpacks out there,” he said. “I took ten in and came out to get ten more and four high school kids came a running and said, ‘Can we help you?’ I just got around and opened the door for them.”
Mark and Mary O’Riley said they are grateful to the community for all the help they receive in their endeavors. They don’t feel like they do anything special.
“It’s about loving and serving one another,” Mary said.
“When an 85-year-old lady gives you a hug and says ‘I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t have come here today,’ that’s why I’m here,” Mark said.