Woman keeps busy as crafter, senior advocate

By Bethany Knipp

Despite being retired, Mary Jo Harbour is constantly busy working as an advocate for other retirees at the Riley County Seniors Service Center.

She’s the chair of the Riley County Council on Aging and the chair of the Spam Protection Committee for Manhattan Area Retired Educators Association.

“It’s really sad… when somebody takes advantage of a senior and blokes them out their bank account,” Harbour, 77, said.

On top of counseling seniors about Medicare and protecting them from scammers, Harbour is a part of many quilting and needlework activities at the senior center, teaching others the skills she acquired in childhood.

“I think I was underfoot sometimes, and my mother would hand me a Learn How book and say, ‘Go sit under the pear tree and entertain yourself,’” Harbour said. “And so that’s where you got the knit, tat and embroider on my list of things because I learned how to do everything in the book.”

Harbour makes bibs, walker caddies, quilts, shawls and hats. When her two daughters were young, she knitted socks.

“When I had small children, my older daughter had such skinny legs that we couldn’t buy knee-high socks that would fit her and so I knit socks for her to wear to school,” Harbour said. “That was long before socks were the thing to knit, which they are now.”

Harbour’s friend Connie Stout, 80, attends the senior center’s Stitch Therapy group with Harbour.

“We call it therapy because we do as much talkin’ as we do stitchin’,” Stout said.

She said her friend of 10 years, whom she met at the senior center, is extremely knowledgable about nearly anything crafty.

“Mary Jo quite often helps with people who are in a tight fix with something they’re working,” Stout said.

A retired home economics teacher, Harbour validated that notion.

“You teach me anything, I will immediately teach it to somebody else,” she said.

Stout and Harbour also had ties before they met at the senior center years ago.

“She had my daughter in school, and she also had my granddaughter in school,” Stout said. “She’s on my granddaughter’s Facebook.”

Stout said that her needlework complements Stout’s and vice versa. Stout likes to work on counted cross stitching while Harbour also makes bigger pieces.

She said the two are sometimes referred to as “frick and frack” at the senior center.

“We just have a good time,” Stout said.

Harbour said in addition to needlework and senior center activities, she also loves to garden and read. She’s a fan of Nora Roberts, nearly addicted to her books and passing them along.

“I have converted three other people to them also,” Harbour said.

Harbour said she keeps herself so busy with the senior center and her plethora of hobbies because she just has to be doing something.

“I have a hard time sitting still and anybody that knows me will tell you I’ve either got knitting or crocheting or embroidery in my hands all the time working on it,” Harbour said.

Harbour said she’s got several needlework projects in the works, including a quilt, but she’s trying to cut back on her kryptonite: fabric.

“At the moment I am trying not to buy fabric. I don’t go in fabric stores because I am a fabriholic,” she said.

It’s been about 16 years since Harbour came to the senior center where she found community and a place to teach her crafts.

“It gives seniors a place to go together and enjoy each other’s company,” she said.

“We form some pretty tight connections down there.”

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