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95-year-old Buffalonian is Catholic Charities USA volunteer of the year

If you tell Daisy "Estelle" Anderson she doesn't look her age, the 95-year-old will giggle and tell you you're flattering her.

You're not flattering her, you're just telling the truth.

One reason Anderson has been able to stay young may be because she has stayed busy and learned new things. And now the mother of four has been named the national volunteer of the year by Catholic Charities USA for her work giving mothers and newborns a start.

"She's a great lady. She's a lady, first and foremost," said Patra Mangus, team leader at the Ladies of Charity on Broadway, said of Anderson, who goes by Estelle.

Anderson came to Buffalo during World War II to visit her aunt, and she never went back to her Terre Haute, Ind., home to live. First she fell in love with the city, particularly the Central Terminal on the East Side, and then she met her future husband, Arthur, and fell in love with him.

After working in a factory, operating a poultry store with her husband and teaching, she settled back to volunteering with Ladies of Charity, an organization of women who embrace the ideas of Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac to help the poor.

Anderson said longevity runs in her family: her father lived to 98, her sister to 100 and her brother was 102.

"My mother said when you get old, always try new things, and I really think that's what older people should do," she said. "They should try new things."

Estelle Anderson, right, volunteers at Ladies of Charity with Helen Plochocka, left, and Helen Bowen, center, making layettes for newborn babies. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

An accomplished quilter – one of her quilts is in the permanent collection at the Burchfield Penney Art Center – crocheter and seamstress, Anderson made her own clothes, impressing the leader of a Catholic faith renewal group, who asked her to sew a few baby items. That led her to Ladies of Charity in 1985, where she has been helping out ever since. She works with others assembling baby layettes for new mothers. The layettes include handmade crib sheets, receiving blankets, socks, bibs, Sleep N' Plays, onesies, blankets, diapers and books.

"It's not just the work she does," said Eileen Nowak, the director of parish outreach and advocacy program for Catholic Charities who nominated Anderson for the award. "She's a woman of color. She came to Ladies of Charity over 30 years ago, when there were really virtually no other women of color in our organization. She was welcomed with open arms."

Nowak estimates Anderson has touched 10,000 people over the years with her contributions to Ladies of Charity.

Anderson volunteers once a week on the second floor of Ladies of Charity on Broadway. She likes going to McDonald's for lunch with friends and playing bridge.

"I'm not a very good bridge player and they're hard up for a bridge player, so they don't mind playing with me," Anderson said.

Estelle Anderson holds the sewing machine she purchased after her wedding in 1944. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

She learned how to play the recorder and has an iPad and an iPhone – but she has to look up her cellphone number.

"I think older people should have little gadgets like that," she said, adding that her daughter set her up with a Facebook page.

Anderson spent one year in college before coming to Buffalo in 1943 and was supposed to go home for her second year of college.

"I fell in love with Buffalo. Guess what I fell in love with? Central Terminal. It was so exciting, I will never forget that experience," she recalled.

Anderson, who had never worked, went to the Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant and was hired on the spot. She met Arthur Anderson, and they married in 1944. After World War II, the jobs for women dwindled, and the couple opened a shop selling poultry. The business closed three years later, and Anderson went back to college to get a teaching degree. After teaching at Schools 17 and 60 for about 25 years, she retired and has been active since. She attends SS. Columbia-Brigid Catholic Church.

"She's always learning. She never gives up learning," said her friend and fellow volunteer, Helen Bowen.

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