On Nov. 6, 2010, Nueces County lost one of its strongest community activists with the passing of Edna Mae McDonald.
McDonald lived all 82 years of her life in Robstown, and for nearly four decades worked tirelessly as an advocate for senior citizens and the needy in western Nueces County.
Friends and family described her as a strong woman with a loving heart who accomplished what she set her mind to.
Robstown City Council member Sybil Tipton first met McDonald at the age of 9, when she joined McDonald's church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Robstown.
"She was just a wonderful Christian lady," Tipton said. "Any young lady in that church could follow in her footsteps and that would be an awesome thing."
Known as "Sister Mac," McDonald worked as church clerk for more nearly 40 years and volunteered with the choir, missions and in teaching classes.
She was born in Robstown in 1928 to Walter and Catherine Henderson Lindsay, and Tipton said she believed McDonald's parents had a strong influence in her character.
"I think that probably came from her parents and the way she was raised. She came from nothing. They were very poor," Tipton said. "But her dad taught and role-model-lived every day integrity, honor and trustworthiness."
Rev. Herman Barnes, a 13-year member of the Mt. Zion Missionary Church and pastor for the past six years, said McDonald was a strong presence in his congregation.
"One thing I loved about Sister McDonald was that she was always serious about her work," Barnes said. "She had a strong personality, but she's was very loving."
He also echoed Tipton's comments about the example McDonald set for younger generations.
"She was loved by everybody. She had this presence about her," Barnes said. "She had a presence that demanded respect. She was a good, respectable woman. There's not many women now that can imprint your life the way she did."
At the close of the first meeting after McDonald's passing, Mayor Pro-Tem Elias Vasquez asked that the meeting be closed in memory of McDonald and her service to the Robstown community.
Vasquez witnessed that willingness to serve firsthand in 1986, when McDonald was working with a City of Robstown senior community services department that resolved issues facing seniors and provided recreational activities. McDonald had been with the program since 1973, but when the city transferred the senior community services program to Nueces County, no funding was available for McDonald's position.
Vasquez was an assistant with then-County Commissioner Richard M. Borchard, and was surprised to learn that McDonald had agreed to continue her work uninterrupted, but as an unpaid volunteer with the county.
"She volunteered to continue working, because there was no position under the county," Vasquez said. "She stayed on because she said she loved the work. That impacted me tremendously."
Recognizing her passion for helping the seniors of Nueces County, the commissioners later moved funds to allow McDonald to have a paid position with the county.
"I just felt that this lady had such a loving heart and wanted to help people out," Vasquez said. "She was a loving person."
Her determination was also evident in McDonald's drive to go back to school late in life.
After obtaining her GED, McDonald first went to Del Mar College, where she earned an Associate's Degree in 1982. She continued her education at Corpus Christi State University, where she earned her Bachelor's Degree in 1984, at the age of 56. Four years later, at the age of 60, she obtained a Master's Degree in Religious Education from Guadalupe College Theological Seminary.
"She had a pretty strong constitution," Tipton said of McDonald's decade-long quest for higher education. "If she said she was going to do something, she did it. She didn't care how long it took her."
Cathryn McDonald, one of Edna's four children, also acknowledged her mother's determination.
"Once my mom decided she was going to do something, she did it," Cathryn said.
Milton McDonald, Edna's husband of 54 years, said his wife sought those advanced degrees with a clear purpose in mind.
"She wanted to be the head of that senior citizens legal aid, so she needed to get as much education as she could," Milton said.
McDonald was active on the boards of directors for Coastal Bend Legal Services and the Nueces County Community Action Agency for many years, and served on the Coastal Bend Council of Governments. She also worked with the Wesley Community Center, the United Way and the Red Cross.
Cathryn said that as a young child, she learned very quickly that her mother was never "off-duty." Calls would come to the home regularly from people in the community asking for Edna's help in getting assistance for utility bills, housing or other issues.
"She was a very caring person, especially for the senior citizens. When she was off work, she wasn't off work," Cathryn said.
McDonald continued working until an illness in 2003 forced her to retire from the community services program she loved.
"She planned on working until the day she died," Cathryn said. "My mom should have retired a long time ago, but she continued to work. She was very active."
Even after retirement, she continued to volunteer at her church. And now, four months after her passing, Rev. Barnes said her presence is still missed.
"She had one little spot she would always sit in," Barnes said. "And when I get up to teach or to preach, that presence isn't there."
For her lifelong service to Nueces County, Edna Mae McDonald is our 2011 Unsung Hero.