There are so few we hold in high esteem, and they tend to be universally revered people we’ll never have the opportunity to interact with on an interpersonal level. People like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Dylan, and other undeniable powerhouses in their respective fields. In very specific ways, they contribute to an enhanced vision humankind can share, sometimes coming at the expense of overlooking their flaws. But day in and day out, our community’s individual assets of personhood are not only overlooked, but completely unknown. And these people were born without a pause button.
Barbara Boustead doesn’t use the word “retired” like most people. After being a clinical social worker in New Jersey, in 2002, she came to Madison and worked at Journey Mental Health Center in the Emergency Services Unit and volunteered for Madison Reading Project. During that time, she lectured and taught future social workers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and started her own company, Mary’s Daughter. But in 2016, she needed to move to the next phase: working as a financial coach and business coach while continuing her “encore entrepreneurship” with Mary’s Daughter.
“After I retired,” Barbara says about her UW–Madison lecturing, which she left in 2011, “I thought ahead and said I wanted to do some other things. I’m not quite sure what yet. And then I was helping with my mom, who’s in Rockford bedridden, and I realized that the hands-on nursing care … is not my strong suit. But the financial paperwork and budgeting and putting things in order and calling the medical doctor or calling the creditor … I’m a really good advocate as part of my social work background.
“Creditors would call the house and they’d say, ‘Your mom owes money,’ or, ‘She hasn’t paid a bill,’ and my sister, who’s wonderful with the caregiving, wasn’t taking care of all that because it’s too much. And so I thought, ‘That’d be a good place for me.’
“And my mom asked, ‘Well, who does this for people when they don’t have someone like you to do this?’
“And I go, ‘I don’t know.’”
Barbara then started Mary’s Daughter, named after her mother, and developed her niche helping seniors and veterans with their bills and paperwork, making sure they’re not getting scammed or falling victim to other types of fraud. As she’s working, it’s not uncommon to get a client telling a story about when they were younger—one of those things some elderly people don’t get to do as much as they’d like. To Barbara, it’s always about helping. “My life is one of mission and service.”
Her attitude toward life and helping others didn’t happen by chance. She can trace the origins of her community-oriented generosity to the moment. She was young, and her mother was working a lot just to provide the basics, so a local member of the community offered to take Barbara to church. That’s where she started to see all these people helping one another and trying to raise each other up in their times of need. A world of giving. It’s also where she discovered her education wasn’t as limited as she’d believed.
The potential to go to college was “like Neverland.” An opportunity arose at George Williams College to go with the YMCA to Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong to teach English. The problem was it would cost an amount of money Barbara couldn’t afford. But the church came together to ensure Barbara would be given the opportunity. When Barbara and I talked, it wasn’t about how great the trip was that sits front and center in her mind, but how amazing people can be when they come together to make something extraordinary happen.
As Barbara strives to be her best self, she serves to her full ability. When it came to creating Mary’s Daughter, it was her recognizing a need in the community and seeing that she had spent a lifetime acquiring these skills. She has developed an acute understanding of how she can relieve a sense of struggle and worry for others in her community. “[I love] the idea that I can share what I think is one of the best-kept secrets around—that you don’t have to go it alone. If you’re a senior and someone is taking your money, say your grandson, but you feel like you don’t have any options because they’re the only the person you got. No. A person can be hired who won’t have to cost an arm and a leg and actually save you money because your accounts aren’t being bled because he’s buying a new car every other whatever or spending your money on gas. You might have more money than you think.”
And, with Barbara, it never stops with simply being able to provide a needed service. “I’m involved with the Department of Aging with seniors because that’s another place where learning about what’s happening with seniors is great for me to know. And then I’m involved with the Alzheimer’s Association because, again, many of the clients have Alzheimer’s and dementia, and I thought I need to learn more about that.” She’s also part of a financial abuse specialist team task force so she can stay current on the types of fraud and identity theft cases out there that are being prosecuted. The discussions between financial people like herself, estate planners, and attorneys give her what she needs to further help seniors.
That drive to continually ask what’s the best way I can help the people I interact with on a regular basis isn’t as common as I think we’d like it to be. The way Barbara looks at it, “If there’s something I can do about that, I’m going to do it.” This article may inspire someone to take advantage of an opportunity they had second thoughts on, or maybe see something to engage in they might’ve been overlooking. Whether or not that happens, getting to know a little bit about Barbara has enriched the way I think about what it means to be part of our community.
Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.