A Grandma To Everyone Woman Who Has ‘Never Known A Bad Kid’ Honored
Bea McElroy is as much a grandmother to Spokane’s street kids as anyone can be.
At 92, the lifelong Spokane resident volunteers nearly 30 hours a week at the Crosswalk shelter for young runaways.
On Tuesday, she was named United Way’s Volunteer of the Year to a standing ovation at a luncheon at the Ag Trade Center.
The woman who said she’s “never known a bad kid” began volunteering at Crosswalk 11 years ago.
She runs a clothing bank for the youths and uses her long list of friends and acquaintances to gather donations.
Occasionally, McElroy works on the food line serving meals, telling the teenagers to eat their vegetables. She’s been known to buy Christmas gifts for the youths with her own money.
Probably her most striking attribute is her infectious smile, said Marilee Roloff, former Crosswalk director.
“She’s definitely everyone’s grandmother,” Roloff said. “They just love her. How could you not?”
McElroy said the Crosswalk staff and youths have been like family to her, and she has repaid the favor by becoming the elder confidante to the kids.
McElroy and her late husband, Hugh, had no children of their own, and she has no relatives in Spokane.
She said she volunteered at Crosswalk after hearing a speech by Roloff in the early 1980s on the need to help the homeless.
“There was something about helping young people that appealed to me,” she said. “I felt I could help more there than in any other area.”
Sometimes, she said, she feels badly for children such as the 17-year-old girl who was turned down for a fast-food job after the employer found out she was at Crosswalk.
“She cried and I cried,” McElroy said.
Youths who come to Crosswalk may be troubled as the result of bad homes or other problems, McElroy said, but they aren’t bad people.
“I’ve never known a bad kid,” McElroy said. “I don’t think God ever made a bad baby.”
In accepting the award Tuesday, McElroy praised the work of the Crosswalk staff. “The abundance of good they do cannot be measured in words,” she told the crowd of 500.
McElroy is no stranger to the limelight.
In the early 1960s, she became the first woman to chair the county Republican Party. In 1965, she was elected president of the Washington State Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs.
During her career, she ran a dress shop on North Division and then worked for Spokane County. She retired from the county clerk’s office in 1973.
Tuesday’s award came as a surprise to her, mostly because she doesn’t think her contributions are greater than those of other volunteers.
“So many other people have done so much more,” McElroy said. “I still don’t think I deserve it.”