LISA DUTTON / BLADE Enlarge
Elizabeth A. Zepf turned 100 on July 6, surrounded by family, friends, and people she has inspired in more than half a century of volunteer work.
Mrs. Zepf said her secret to living a long life is keeping busy, and she's done just that in her work with local and national organizations.
Among the monuments to her outstanding accomplishments are the Elizabeth A. Zepf Madonna Shelter in San Salvador, founded in 1963, and the Zepf Community Mental Health Center in Toledo, which opened in 1974.
On May 6, Mrs. Zepf received the first Women of Toledo Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Vincent Medical Center Auxiliary. In 2000 Gov. Bob Taft gave her the Governor's Award, the highest honor the governor can bestow on an individual or group.
At the party, a large scrapbook documented Mrs. Zepf's life, beginning with photographs of her childhood as Elizabeth McCarthy in Cincinnati. She moved to the Toledo area in 1939 with her husband, Arthur, who died in 1993.
Mrs. Zepf started her volunteer work when her only child, Art Jr., was in high school, he said.
The organizational talents she has used throughout her life were in evidence at her birthday party, which she had formed a committee to plan.
“I'm used to doing that,” she said. “They did a beautiful job.”
In the gym of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in South Toledo, baskets of violets graced the long white-clothed tables arranged on the bright green basketball court.
More violets made of icing covered a large birthday cake. Two smaller cakes were frosted in purple and green plaid.
Newspaper clippings in the scrapbook at the party told how much she has given to others over decades of service.
She is an honorary life member of the Lucas County Board of Mental Health, a founding member of the Toledo Opera Guild, and has served on many other boards including the March of Dimes, the University of Toledo Board of Trustees, and the American Cancer Society.
Much of her work has been done for the Catholic Church.
“She has given so many things to the church and community,” said the Rev. Robert J. Wilhelm, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Mrs. Zepf was president of the National Council of Catholic Women from 1960 to 1962 and president of the Toledo Diocese Council of Catholic Women from 1950 to 1954.
While chairman of the national organization's Foreign Relief program, she helped establish the Madonna Shelter Program, which runs clinics for homeless women and children worldwide, including the one in San Salvador.
Many who came to celebrate also thanked her for inspiring them.
As she sat at the head table in a pale green suit, listening to a friend play the accordion, women who came to wish her happy birthday said “You're such an inspiration” and “Keep up the good work.”
The birthday party, held after a noon Mass in Mrs. Zepf's honor, was months in the planning. The previous evening, about 80 people attended a dinner at the Maumee River Yacht Club, said friend Kay Flack.
So many of the 100 people at the church party came to speak with Mrs. Zepf that she had little chance to eat her sandwich and fruit salad until the entertainment began. After everyone sang “Happy Birthday,” an Irish dancer performed up and down an aisle.
Mrs. Zepf watched closely, smiling and holding her purple paper napkin.
Her greatest gift is her ability to show others leadership, said Chris Young, who drove from New Washington, Ohio, for the birthday party.
Mrs. Zepf encouraged her and other women to take leadership positions that they never would have thought to try for, Mrs. Young said.
“She has a wonderful ability to empower other people,” Mrs. Young said.
Mrs. Zepf lives in South Toledo with her son, who said many relatives came from out of town to celebrate, and friends have been calling with good wishes.
“The phone didn't stop ringing,” he said.
Art Zepf said he's amazed at all his mother has done. “I gotta step back sometimes and take a look at all the things that have happened,” he said.
Mrs. Young said women from every diocese in Ohio will gather in August to celebrate again.
“They all know the name Elizabeth Zepf,” she said.