80-year-old volunteer honored with Live Oak

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Heather Heiney
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Although the overcast November sky kept the golden shovels from sparking, the 45-degree weather didn't keep an 80-year-old woman's smile from radiating warmth as a live oak tree was planted outside the Keesler Thrift Shop in her honor.

When Cathy Varble turned 80 Oct. 20 she thought that if she simply went to China for her birthday, she could escape the "hoopla" that comes along with such a momentous occasion. However, when she got back, the Keesler Spouses Club had another idea. The tree was their birthday present to Varble in honor of her decades of service to Keesler. Her husband, Tom, is an Air Force retiree and also an avid volunteer on base and in the community.

Varble has been involved with the Air Force since 1960 when she commissioned as and Air Force Nurse and was stationed at Keesler for six months of training early in her career. Varble spent six years on active duty and separated as a captain when she became pregnant with her son and returned to Keesler for good in 1974. That same year she became part of the Keesler Spouses Club and has been active with the club and volunteering on the base ever since.

"Whatever comes up that they need me to do, that's what I do," Varble said.

Currently, some of her Keesler activities include meetings of the Keesler Integrated Resource Team and various other groups, helping with Child Pride Day and using her nursing experience to help out at the 81st Medical Group. However, Varble's longest endeavor is the Keesler Thrift Shop because she's been board member of the KSC for 34 years. She's watched the shop change throughout the years and has held several different positions including manager.

When she walked into the thrift shop after the tree-planting ceremony she stopped, longingly glanced at a set of Christmas statues and said, "It's dangerous to work in here."
Some of her off-base activities include taking care of her neighbor's two children after school every day and doing outreach for the Air Force Nurses south central region which entails sending cards eight times a year to sick nurses and their families. She also helps with an annual two-week long camp for special needs children and adults.

"She has more energy than someone half her age," said Mary Fitzgerald, KSC president.

"I just enjoy people," Varble said, "If I feel I can do some good, I don't hesitate."

When she's not giving her time to the base and local community, Varble travels the world and bowls several times a week both at Gaudé Lanes and off base bowling alleys.

"As part of Cathy's birthday celebration, I solicited current and past members of Keesler Spouses Club, as well as folks throughout Cathy's past to write a good wish for her," Fitzgerald said. "My goal was to collect 80 reasons why she 'bowls you over.'"

"Sometimes in life you meet a person who inspires you to work a little harder, live more meaningfully, give more generously. They touch you and all around them with their spirit. Cathy does all that and 80 times more. She is an excellent role model, not just for military spouses, but the entire Keesler community," Fitzgerald said.