At 94, Margaret Epper is a remarkable example of the giving spirit that Christians are charged to possess. Epper is a regular volunteer at St. Joseph Church in Charleston, and has been since 1996, but her years participating with the Catholic Church go back as far as she can remember.
“I was born in France, and I was baptized at St. Joseph’s in Belgium,” she said. “When we moved to America, my parents couldn’t speak English, but I know that we wouldn’t miss church. My grandmother in France volunteered all her life.”
For Epper the years of giving back to her community came with the birth of her daughter, Peggy.
“She was born with Down Syndrome, and I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t volunteering with her,” she said. “I worked with the co-ed Explorer Scouts for Special Needs for 35 years. I love to stay active with the kids.”
After her husband died Epper continued to volunteer, although the location changed.
“I moved to Charleston from New Jersey in 1996,” she said. “My husband died in 1991, and it got the place where I couldn’t keep up with snow and leaf removal anymore.”
She moved to Charleston to be near her son — one of four — and his family. Peggy made the move as well.
“Peggy always volunteered with me,” said Epper. “We were named volunteers of the month once, in 2000. She passed away in August 2002 at the age of 61. She was a wonderful kid. I loved volunteering with her and having her with me.”
Epper is a member of the Piecemakers, comprised of members of the St. Joseph’s Ladies Group who are very adept with a needle and thread.
“We make quilts and raffle them off in church fund-raisers,” she said. “I also do a bit of crocheting on my own, too. I make scarves, baby afghans, and socks for the Navy. You know those boys’ feet get cold.”
The weekly Piecemakers meetings aren’t enough to keep Epper busy. During basketball season she volunteers at the concession stand at St. Joseph games.
“I want to keep as active as I can,” she said. “As long as my legs move, I will move. When you volunteer you’re giving something. How much can you paint the house, hang wallpaper, and crochet?”
It is that spirit of giving that impresses Al Katko, the church’s life center director.
“She is such a jewel,” said Katko. “She is always doing something to give back. She truly typifies the word ‘volunteer.’ I was so impressed that even when her daughter was alive they were both always here, doing for others.”
With all of the volunteering it would seem that Epper would need to slow down, but she has vowed in her heart never to miss the daily Mass at the church.
“I made up my mind a long time ago that if I could go out I would go to Mass,” she said. “I won’t miss unless I am really sick. And, yes, I drive my own car.”
Epper hopes that by going to church she sets an example for her family and the children she sees each day.
“If I had one wish, it would be that the children today would go to church,” she said. “They don’t know how much it would really help them if they would just go.”
“God willing, if we live as long as Mrs. Epper, we can live the life of example that she is living,” said Katko. “She is truly, truly amazing.”