Work of J.B., Mary Ellen Cain recognized by Nettle Creek community
The Nettle Creek community recognized a couple’s lifetime of helping others by naming J.B. and Mary Ellen Cain the 2022 Good Friend and Neighbor during the Rural Urban Banquet on Thursday, July 28.
The recognition has been bestowed annually since 1959 to one or two people known for helping others, often outside of the public spotlight. More than 100 people attended the dinner at Hartley Hills Golf Club. The event is organized by Hagerstown Young Farmers and Hagerstown Optimist Club.
“When there’s a need and you can help someone, why not? We both have a hard time saying no,” Mary Ellen said on Friday. They have a rural Williamsburg address but their lives are entwined with the Economy community.
J.B., a Purdue animal science graduate, taught 4½ years before farming. Married for 48 years, the couple lives on his family’s Hoosier Homestead farm. After graduating from Ball State University, Mary Ellen taught for a few years, then paused to raise the couple’s children, Matthew and Amy. She went back to teaching, retiring after 24 years at Hagerstown Elementary School.
J.B. Cain and Mary Ellen Rupe grew up in Wayne County: he near Williamsburg and she in Richmond. Her dad had J.B.’s mother as a teacher at Whitewater. Mary Ellen’s parents were Quakers, as was J.B.’s mother, and so Mary Ellen and J.B. knew each other as children.
Mary Ellen recalls looking for J.B. and his pigs at the county fair each year. One thing former students remember about her is petting live baby pigs on her classroom’s annual Pig Day. Another of her remembered traditions has been continued: on the last day of school, Mary Ellen provided checkered flags and the assembled teachers would wave them as school buses left the parking lot, crossing the finish line for that year.
J.B. serves as treasurer of the Economy Lions Club, which he joined 55 years ago. He helps them manage the Lions Den and the old Economy gym. He’s hoping to find a way to continue preserving the old wooden gym that once served the Economy Cardinals. It is still used when people want to practice their game or for community activities.
He is president the Economy Cemetery Association and serves on the Perry Township advisory board. He also volunteers to take care of a trailhead on the Cardinal Greenway.
Both are active in Economy United Methodist Church, where they organize the annual Drive a Tractor to Church Sunday. Mary Ellen has directed the choir for more than 20 years and they serve as worship team leaders.
Mary Ellen maintains a church email chain that became an essential part of keeping people connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a connection for when people need prayers and it was really helpful during the pandemic,” Mary Ellen said. “Even when I would see something uplifting or inspirational, I would send it out.”
Since her retirement from teaching, she has become active in sewing. She is part of a Quilt Guild in Winchester and belongs to the Quaker Quilters in Richmond, who have a current display at Earlham College. She is part of a group that knits warm prayer shawls that are given to people recovering from surgery.
She and another retired teacher, Debbie Ballenger, got young people involved in making blankets for people attending the Hagerstown chapter of a substance abuse recovery group. One of that group’s leaders told her she might be surprised that some of her former students attended that group. “It hit really hard, but I was glad I could use my talent in sewing to help them.”
In introducing them, last year’s recipient, Dr. Christy Herr, used a bouquet of flowers from the gardens of six past recipients to describe the Cains’ attributes: daisies for loyalty; liatris, blanket flowers, yellow roses and oregano stems for joy; red roses and yellow lilies for the gratitude the Cains display daily; gladiolus for integrity, strength of character, hard work, generosity and faithfulness; white carnations for faithfulness and trustworthiness; red zinnias and sunflower for dedication to teaching, family, farming and the community.
A day after the surprise presentation, Mary Ellen Cain said, “I am still stunned. It’s been quite an honor. We enjoy doing what we do because we want to do it.”