Resolve to Serve Stories

The Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards

Reserve Your Seat!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Music City Center

201 5th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203


2018 Strobel Volunteer Award Finalists

View all award nominees

Capacity-building Volunteer

Honors individuals who provide significant operational or administrative support to a nonprofit agency, faith-based ministry or community organization, or developed an innovative approach to significantly improve an existing program.

  • Cheri Ferrari, The Nashville Food Project

  • Joey Hatch, YWCA Nashville

  • John O’Shea, Room In The Inn

Civic Volunteer Group

Recognizes representatives of civic, membership, faith-based or non-corporate groups that volunteer together for a specific cause or issue. 

  • Delta Sigma Theta Alumnae, MNPS Scholarship Support

  • NHA: Silver Socializers, Nashville Humane Society

  • Operation Song, Tennessee Valley Healthcare System

Corporate Volunteerism

Pays tribute to businesses that have robust employee volunteer programs with high levels of participation and impact. 

  • Media Star Promotions, The Nashville Food Project

  • Deloitte, PENCIL

  • Steve Ward and Associates, Preston Taylor Ministries

Direct Service Volunteer (ages five to 20)

Recognizes individuals who have contributed significant volunteer time, energy, and/or resources to help an agency’s constituents.

  • Leanna Edwards, Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, Alvin C. York VA Medical Center

  • Allison Heard, Saddle Up!

  • Sam Strang, Pro-bono Music and Entertainment for Various Nonprofits

Direct Service Volunteer (ages 21 to 49)

  • Paige Cruse, Alive Hospice

  • Sean Druffel, Habitat for Humanity

  • Jill Heyman, Oasis Center

Direct Service Volunteer (ages 50 plus)

  • Janie Busbee, Mother to Mother, Inc.

  • Dr. Catherine Thornburg, Siloam Health

  • Anthony J. Viglietti, Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival/Friends of Riverside Drive


About the Awards

The Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Awards, presented by Advance Financial, recognize Middle Tennessee volunteers who give their time and talents to improve the community. For more than 30 years, the awards ceremony have been Middle Tennessee’s largest annual celebration of volunteerism.

Hosted by Hands On Nashville in partnership with the Strobel family, the Awards honor the spirit of service demonstrated by Mary Catherine Strobel. 


About Mary Catherine Strobel

Mary Catherine Schweiss Strobel was born in Nashville on August 20, 1912, and grew up in the city’s old Germantown neighborhood – a humble, close knit community where people took care of one another. She is best remembered and honored in Middle Tennessee for her tireless, joyful commitment to those in need: the poor, the sick, the homeless and the helpless.

Mary Catherine was the daughter of Mary Magdalene Sullivan and Henry Charles Schweiss, Jr. When she was just a baby a gas stove exploded in the family home while her father was away. Her mother was killed in the blaze, but Mary Catherine was saved by a neighbor. She and her father moved in with his family – a cadre of German-American aunts, uncles and cousins. In this way, an only child became a cherished member of a large, boisterous and giving clan.

These early experiences were powerful influences. Naturally gregarious and open, Mary Catherine came to see everyone she encountered as “family,” and never met a stranger. She grew up among people without power or influence. Yet in her eyes, the life of her community was overflowing with abundance because those who surrounded her were willing to give everything they had to one another.

She was keen to follow their example. As a very young child, she would ask her father for money to buy food for poor neighbors, and collected useful items to deliver around the neighborhood. Mary Catherine’s approach to giving throughout her life was exclusively hands on. Her car was a rolling general store with supplies of food, clothes, funeral wreaths, shoes, books, newspapers for paper drives and other goods for the needy. Her typical day might involve visiting several hospitals, assisting at a soup kitchen, attending a funeral, and taking clothing to people in need, whom she always referred to as “friends.”

A lifelong and devout Catholic, Mary Catherine’s good works were not confined to a single religion or race. She opened her arms to the human race, yet her approach was always personal, always one-to-one. And she gave her greatest gifts freely: her time; her love; her faith; and her good humor.

Mary Catherine also made Nashville history. In 1937, she married Martin George Strobel, an employee of the Nashville Fire Department. Ten years later, when she was 35 and a mother of four young children, Martin died of a heart attack. Knowing that Mary Catherine now faced providing for the children and two elderly aunts alone, Chief Henry Demonbruen broke precedent and offered her a job in the Fire Marshal’s office. She thus became the first female employee of the Nashville Fire Department, and the only one for the next 29 years.

On a cold December afternoon in 1986 while shopping at a department store in downtown Nashville, Mary Catherine was kidnapped and murdered by a convict escaped from a prison in the Midwest. In the aftermath came a profound outpouring of love and appreciation from the Nashville community she had cherished. In 1987, the Metro Council renamed its Fire Prevention Hall the “Mary Catherine Schweiss Strobel Fire Prevention Bureau Building.” And in April 1987, Nashville’s United Way honored her memory with the first annual Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer of the Year Award. Now run by Hands On Nashville, and having been a community staple for more than 30 years, the awards honor volunteers from throughout Middle Tennessee who quietly and selflessly give to others every day of their lives.

Mary Catherine would have been so proud of the many extraordinary volunteers who have been nominated for and presented with the award given in her name - and so grateful to everyone at Hands On Nashville. And she would no doubt have considered them part of her family, that ever-widening circle of Nashvillians whose greatest desire in life is to extend a hand to others.