Zaretzke turns hobby into a mission

By Steve Wideman | For The Compass | April 10, 2013

The retired beauty salon owner, who for years organized the annual St. Margaret Mary Parish rummage sale, has turned her love for rummaging into a life’s mission of helping the poor through St. Vincent de Paul.


Judy Zaretzke (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)

“God somehow guided me all along to this kind of mission. He put me where he wanted me because rummage sales are not that much different than the thrift shop,” said Zaretzke, a member of the Neenah conference of St. Vincent de Paul. She serves on a committee that operates the society’s Neenah thrift shop.

Zaretzke volunteers five days a week sorting, cleaning, organizing and displaying donated toys, puzzles and other items for children.

“I do enjoy working with the toys,” said Zaretzke, who has 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “I think about all the money that was spent on those toys when they were new. And some of the toys are in like-new condition.”

New plastic soldiers, for example, can carry a retail price of up to several dollars, but some people can’t afford that cost, Zaretzke said.

“Maybe some mother can only afford 50 cents. That’s the joy of doing this work — knowing the mother of some little child can only afford 50 cents and this bag of toys you put together is going to make the child so happy. Maybe this will be the child’s birthday or Christmas present,” she said.

On Saturdays, Zaretzke volunteers to work on the sales floor of the thrift shop.

“I’m not the kind of person who likes to sit around. I pray every day that God will keep me busy. Sometimes he overdoes it and keeps me a little too busy, but I think I am fulfilling what he wants me to do.”

Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Judy Zaretzke

Parish: St. Margaret Mary, Neenah

Age: 72

Favorite saint: Francis of Assisi

Words to live by: “When life gets too hard to stand … start kneeling (in prayer).”

Zaretzke’s zeal today for serving God through St. Vincent de Paul actually began to take shape in 2001 after she retired as a beautician and sold her shop.

“When I retired that’s when I started doing all the rummage sales for St. Margaret Mary,” she said.

She started by approaching the former pastor, Fr. David Koch, asking why the church did not have an annual rummage sale like all the other Catholic churches in Neenah and Menasha.

“Fr. Koch said, ‘Because no one wants to run a rummage sale … Judy,'” Zaretzke said.

Fr. Koch’s momentary hesitation and then emphasis on “Judy” sent a clear message to her mind that the job was hers for the taking.

For a couple years she kept mountains of donated rummage in her garage until the sale.

“Then we found two older ladies with garages who didn’t own cars,” Zaretzke said. “The church finally let us store stuff on the stage in the school gym.”

The first rummage sale netted $6,000 to split between the church and school.

“At our highest peak we made $25,000. I love rummage sales and rummaging. It was a way to make money for the church, which always needs money for something. And it was so easy,” Zaretzke said.

But years of arranging the church sales pushed Zaretzke to the point of exhaustion.

“It was almost a full-time job,” said Zaretzke, who stopped coordinating the rummage sale two years ago and joined St. Vincent de Paul at the urging of a friend.

“I don’t know if the good Lord gravitated me toward that, but I just love helping,” she said.

Zaretzke soon found herself on the Neenah store’s operating committee, which she calls the “store board.” She didn’t waste any time coming up with an idea promising to revolutionize the local organization in a big way.

“I thought if I was on the store board I better go look and find out what was going on at the store,” Zaretzke said.

In short order, Zaretzke found a store short on space. “I thought maybe we needed a study to see if we needed a new store,” she said. “People would call the store and say they had an estate and would we come and pick up the stuff? We had to tell them no because we didn’t have room.”

Zaretzke lost no time in urging development of a feasibility study that eventually led to the Neenah St. Vincent de Paul group acquiring a 47,000 square foot former grocery store to replace the existing 17,000 square-foot store.

The new store at the former Pick ‘n Save grocery site on South Commercial Street was to hold its grand opening April 11. “Now we’ll have the room,” Zaretzke said.

She plans to keep coming up with ideas for St. Vincent de Paul to meet local needs. “I must have been put in this particular situation so the rest of my life I could be serving others,” she said. “I just hope I am fulfilling God’s mission for me.”

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