In 1974, Watergate was in the news, "Happy Days" premiered on television and Marianne Lowry and June Kreplin started their volunteer service with Heartland Alliance's Travelers Aid program.
Travelers Aid staff and volunteers provide travel information, crisis support, and protective services to travelers at O'Hare International Airport. They're easy to spot in their blue booths and blue blazers. Among the 80 regular volunteers, Marianne and June are two of the most dedicated, each having served for more than 36 years.
Marianne Lowry, past recipient of the Dorothy McManus volunteer award, regularly volunteers at her church, and was introduced to Travelers Aid by another church volunteer. She's been active in recruiting other volunteers as well, including June Kreplin!
Marianne describes herself as a "people person" and has greeted and assisted international travelers, students traveling alone, runaway children, and foreign-born infants joining their adoptive families in the United States.
She's collected quite a few stories over the years. Once, Marianne went to meet a runaway girl at her arrival gate. As the passengers disembarked, Marianne scanned the crowd for the girl described in her paperwork, but no one appeared. A woman exited the plane and reported that her carryon bag was missing. The runaway girl had stolen the bag, changed into the woman's clothes to disguise herself, and slipped away in the crowd.
Another time, Marianne was escorting a little girl traveling to meet her father on the East Coast. As they walked between gates, the girl offered to buy Marianne lemonade, but Marianne politely turned down the drink. "Well, I hope I get to meet you again when I come back," said the little girl to Marianne, "But don't expect me to have money on the way back. My dad is cheap." Marianne laughs as she tells this story.
Everyone at Travelers Aid knows that June Kreplin loves children. From her time as a teacher to her volunteer service with the Shedd Aquarium and Travelers Aid, June's public service has always benefitted children. "Kids are who I really enjoy working with," she says.
In the late 1970s, June met every flight that carried Korean orphans, helping to take care of the babies before they were formally handed over to their new adoptive parents. After the first baby meet, June worried that she could not handle the task again. But for years, two to three times each week, June would meet the flights at O'Hare, and take care of one infant, helping to change and feed them. June herself adopted a child from Korea and, on one occasion, she traveled to Seoul to pick up infants waiting to be adopted by other families.
Today, you can find June at Terminal 3, wearing a blue blazer and helping people find their way around O'Hare or around Chicago. She chases down passengers who start walking down the hall in the wrong direction, or sends families in need of supplies to the right office door. "I've enjoyed it all these years," says June when asked why she still volunteers.
The people have changed, and the airport is a different place than it once was, but Marianne and June have both renewed their airport ID badge for another year, meaning that Heartland Alliance's longest-serving volunteers will hold onto their title.