At the Semmes Chamber of Commerce Officer Installation Banquet in December, Margaret Coley was honored as the first Semmes Citizen of the Year.
In describing Margaret and her selection as Citizen of the Year, Chamber president, Brandon Van Hook, noted that the award is given for outstanding involvement in the Semmes community and surrounding areas.
Van Hook said, "Not many people can say they serve (both) the youth and the elders of our community. Not many people know of Mrs. Margaret and her local missions. She is truly a saint, to young and old, with all her work behind the scenes. I believe the Lord has a special place in heaven reserved just for her."
Margaret said that she was unaware that she would be honored at the banquet.
"It touched my heart beyond words," she said. "I was sitting there thinking, 'Brandon is going to make someone really happy.' When I realized he was talking about me, I almost fainted."
Now about Margaret and her activities over the years that have brought her to this point--as Semmes Citizen of the Year.
After she graduated from Judson College, she taught school for 28 years. In that capacity, she was selected by her peers as Teacher of the Year at both Semmes Elementary School and at Scarborough Middle School, and she received the Heart of Gold award for all her volunteer work.
In telling Chamber members and guests some of Margaret's deeds, Brandon said, "If I remember correctly, it all started with shoes."
As a teacher, Margaret collected shoes during the Christmas season for children in need. That activity led her to partner with multiple schools and churches to create a toy drive for area students whose families were in need of assistance.
With the massive success of providing for those in need, Margaret founded a non-profit organization called "Ring of Hope." She operates her missionary work at Snow Road First Baptist Child Development Center, where she serves as the Administrator, and her goal for all children is that they be loved “right up to heaven."
However, the outreach to children and others has really been a lifelong mission for Margaret. She was called to action after "Seeing children with no voice in their situations, many loving school just because they could eat and stay warm," she said.
More than 1,000 students are now receiving A Book A Month through Ring of Hope’s Ginny Project, which sponsored the Scholastic Reading Club, making sure every child in a classroom got a book, not just those who could afford it.
And the Hope Angel Tree has been reaching out to families for eleven years.
"If you look at Margaret Coley's Facebook," Van Hook said, "you will see the love she has not only for children, but also for veterans."
She is an advocator, a caretaker, a family member and a blessing to them all, he said; she has dedicated her time to educate others of their importance, their history, and how their service is reason we are able to enjoy a life of freedom.
This has been acknowledged by her having received, in 2012, the Presidents Award given by the Mobile Area Veterans Day Commission.
Margaret was one of the directors of Honor Flight South Alabama, a program that flew WWII veterans to Washington DC to see their memorial.
With that group, she took nine flights with more than a thousand veterans on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Of those trips, she said that friendships were forged and are long-lasting.
"Many of the WWII veterans we loved have now been promoted (passed away) leaving a legacy of love for our great nation," Margaret said.
Margaret also helps coordinate the placement of flags at the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and, in December, for Family Wreath Day.
Veterans at W.F. Green Veterans Home in Bay Minette have become part of her mission with Ring of Home. Margaret said of visiting veterans in their twilight years that "many (of them) unable to verbally express themselves will reach deep in one’s heart. The eyes smile…or the rubbing of a new shirt will bring tears… are their thank you."
With the help of many community partners, Margaret has seen that more than 400 children receive Santa gifts at each Christmas; that veterans at W F Green Veterans Home are sponsored; and that those who come broken needing a hand up are given HOPE through a gift of food or an emergency gift.
But, Margaret said, she hasn't accomplished her outreach projects alone.
She noted in particular that St. Paul's Episcopal School, Faith Academy and Causey Middle School have been faithful school partners and that "The Hope Angel Tree is a reflection of the generosity of the students in these schools," she said. There are other generous churches, individuals and businesses with like hearts that have given a hand.
All the giving has been fulfilling for Margaret. But some instances she particularly remembers.
"I will never forget the little boy jumping up and down on the back of a very beat up truck, holding a six-pack of toilet paper and yelling 'Thank you for this! And please ask Santa to tell my daddy he can come home now--Mama ain’t mad no more.'"
Nor will she forget the family of six living in a shed with an extension cord run up the hill for electricity for the single light bulb in their 'home.' This family was loved on for five Christmases…each year receiving gifts of HOPE. Last year they moved to a 'mansion'…up the hill and three trailers down."
When she is asked why she does what she does, Margaret's response is "Why not me?"
She continued, "In the scriptures it says 'When you have done unto the least of these you have done it unto me.' I also believe that there is no “ I “ in my mission. I would rather say we, because there are many hands and hearts in this Ring of Hope."
And her conclusion, and maybe one reason she was chosen Semmes Citizen of the Year: "I am the most ordinary person who has been fortunate to have some very extraordinary opportunities."