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Marilee Monroe: Does that name ring a bell?

Marilee Monroe has helped for many years with programs and projects to benefit Charles City and surrounding communities. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra
Marilee Monroe has helped for many years with programs and projects to benefit Charles City and surrounding communities. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra
By Kelly Terpstra,

Marilee Monroe is a giver. She’s also a people person.

Monroe, who will turn 85 this December, has offered her assistance to help strengthen bonds within the community of Charles City for quite some time now.

An open house for Marilee Monroe will be held 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the First Congregational  Church, 502 N. Jackson St.

She is well known in the area for her work with many organizations, including the Salvation Army, where she has been the principal force behind the annual Red Kettle bell-ringing campaigns.

“I believe if there’s people that need help, that’s what we do,” said Monroe.

She said one of her strengths is being able to rally others to a cause.

“What I’m best at is — I’m not particularly good at anything — but I know people that are. I ask,” she said.

Monroe will scale back some of her duties this year with the Salvation Army, but, “I’ll still be making calls.”

She said the organization is in good hands.

“I knew it was time to step down,” she said. “When you have a good program, it shouldn’t stop with an individual. It needs to continue.

“It’s time,” she said. “You need new ideas and new blood.”

Monroe, along with several other people, was instrumental in the mid-1970s in getting the Salvation Army jump-started in Charles City.

The familiar holiday bell ringing and red kettles are stationed at four main locations in Charles City — Hy-Vee, Kmart, Ace Hardware and Theisen’s.

Monroe remembers when the donations totaled $5,000 a year. Now, 40 years later, there is almost five times that amount raised by the charitable network in Charles City. And 90 percent of the money collected stays in Floyd County.

It doesn’t hurt that many people want to donate their time for a good cause.

“What’s wonderful, sometimes we have more than we need,” said Monroe. “People want to ring the bell.”

The more the merrier, that’s Monroe’s motto.

“What I’ve discovered, the more people you get involved, the better it is,” she said.

Monroe was recently inducted into the Comet Hall of Fame by the Charles City Community Excellence in Education Foundation. The award recognizes distinguished alumni and contributors who have brought honor to the Charles City Community School District in a variety of fields.

Monroe, who calls herself a “frustrated teacher wanna-be,” helps teachers and students as an instructional assistant at the Charles City middle school. She has helped lead after-school programs, third-grade bus tours of Charles City and history lessons about Floyd County.

“I’ve always worked with children. Anything I do, I include the kids because I like working with kids,” she said.

Three of Monroe’s children have at one point in their careers been in the teaching field. One has retired after 37 years of teaching and another is still going strong, guiding students for three decades now.

Monroe’s message to young students is to avoid indifference.

“I have always said to the kids, the thing I hate worse than anything is apathy,” she said.

She graduated from Colwell High School in 1951 and was one of eight in her class, but she did not attend college. Her dad was a tenant farmer and she said the cost played a factor in her decision to not pursue a degree.

“I don’t have any education. I’m very aware of that, but I never let it stop me,” said Monroe.

It’s that can-do attitude that helped Monroe receive the moniker of “Landslide Monroe” after narrowly winning the seat for Floyd County recorder in 1974 by just 41 votes.

She was re-elected by 83 votes four years later to begin her second term. Monroe said former Iowa Congressman Dave Nagle would always introduce her at events by that nickname, “Landslide Monroe.”

Monroe served six terms as recorder. Current Floyd County Recorder Deb Roberts took over that post from Monroe in 1998. Monroe had hired Roberts as a 16-year old when she was in high school. Roberts is running unopposed next month and will begin her sixth term as well if re-elected.

Whether it’s helping with the high school program Iowa BIG North, the anti-drug program So Far (Sober for a Reason) or her contributions through various churches around town, Monroe is intent on helping change lives for the better.

“I have to have projects. I have to have a project going. My friends hate me for that, but I do,” said Monroe.

If that means donning a orange vest and picking up trash in ditches, so be it.

That’s a task, through the group “Network of Women,” that Monroe and several others did one year along the highway between Floyd and Rudd. Monroe helped sign up eight others through the Department of Transportation to help with the cleanup. Some of Monroe’s friends that helped with the project might have teasingly had a little bone to pick with her after that task was complete.

“Oh, they hated me,” Monroe chuckled.

Monroe loves to travel overseas and has been to every one of the 50 states across this nation. She doesn’t get out on the road as much now as her health won’t allow her to, but she still finds time for some trips around the Midwest.

“I don’t want to be 85 years old and talk about my health,” Monroe giggled. “I’d talk about it, but nobody would listen.”

Monroe married Ernest “Bud” Monroe in 1953. He died in 2003.

“I have to get up and get out,” she said. “When you get older and you live alone, you have to and some can’t. You’ve got to keep going.”

Although Monroe, also known as the “Bell of Charles City,” has slowed down a bit in recent years, she still stays busy. She is also very appreciative of all the help she has received along the way in her quest to make Charles City the best place it can be for people to work and live.

“You can write all you want about me, but if people didn’t do it with me I couldn’t have done it,” said Monroe. “I have wonderful memories.”

Even though it was 50 years ago last summer, Monroe said the tornado that swept through Charles City still has a lasting effect on the town — in a good way.

“I think the tornado helped us learn to brainstorm together. We had to come together, no matter what your politics or what your religion. We had to work together. I would put us up against any community in Iowa. I really would,” said Monroe.

Monroe might have some regrets in life, but not in the way you would think.

“You don’t regret what you did, you regret what you didn’t do,” she said, smiling.