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Marlene Huckaby: Shangri La volunteer plus more

By Martha Bush

The Orange Leader

Mama, Mama,” a little girl screamed as she went running into the house. “Mr. Stark just drove by and waved at me.”

Little did this little girl know at the time (circa 1940) that the sprawling piece of property that Lutcher Stark owned on West Park Avenue, better known today as Shangri La, would one day be instrumental in helping save her life from the depths of a deep depression.

Marlene Huckaby, a petite, spry eighty-four old, mother of three, grandmother of seven, great-grandmother of eighteen, volunteers at Shangri La one day a week since 2007.

After the death of her husband in 2006, Huckaby tells how she fell into a depression.

At the urging of her children who often said to her, “Mama, you need to find something to do,” began volunteering at Shangri La, starting out in the Green House planting flowers even before it officially opened to the public.

“It saved my life. It got me back on my feet from the depression I had fallen into,” added Huckaby.

Visitors strolling through the park today are able to enjoy some of the flowers that Huckaby help plant during that dark period of her life back in 2007. They also might personally meet Huckaby as she tells the story of Mr. Stark and shows the movie about Shangri La’s history.

“I love all the people who work at Shangri La. They treat us volunteers the same as the rest of the employees,” Huckaby said. “One funny story that has stuck with me for some reason is one day my partner and I watched as a bird pooped on the sidewalk. An employee walked by, and we told him that somebody needs to get this poop up! He immediately went to work, cleaning up what the volunteers had told him to do”

As much as Huckaby enjoys the people and her work at Shangri La, she pointed out that there are other parts of her life that keep her going also. She noted that she is very active in her church, First Baptist Church of Mauriceville, where she teaches a ladies’ Bible Study class and is involved in the Senior Citizen Group.

In addition to her church work, she feels especially grateful that all three of her children live near her and keep her busy, as well as keep a watchful eye on her.

“I am blessed,” Huckaby repeatedly stated. “I try not to complain.”

When asked what she would say to others who might find themselves in her position in their life, namely a depression from a loss, as well as aging, she didn’t hesitate saying, “Find something to do if you are physically able. I like my house, but it is not my life. Shangri La is great, but it is second to church. In my position, the best thing a person can do is find the Lord, and I believe that is the most important thing. For me, my priorities are family first, church second and volunteering third. These three together will help you have an active life, but also help you make friends who can help you in need, plus you can help them when they are in need.”