People of Siouxland – Portraits of the Extraordinary

A Lifetime of Service: Arlene Baldes

You rarely meet a person as selfless and devoted as 95-year-old Arlenes Baldes, who has spent her life volunteering. “It’s part of who I am. I always felt there was a need and that I can help someone, somehow. I care so deeply about our community.”  That is what Arlene has done for decades. 

She has certainly shown immeasurably valuable work. She is a former counselor and teacher, who helped develop the preschool program at the Mary J. Treglia Community House, a non-profit agency that serves Siouxland’s newcomers. She taught English to hundreds of people, including John Bariatakis, the founder and owner of Johnnie Mars Family Restaurant, a long-time Sioux City staple. John came to Sioux City from Greece when he was only 18 years old. “And he still calls me his teacher,” said Arlene laughing. Johnnie was one of her many students at MJTCH and in the community. 

Arlene was a West Middle School teacher and taught students with disabilities and behavioral disorders for 20 years until she retired in 1992. And after her retirement, she taught well into her 80s as a substitute teacher. “She has had kids she taught at West Middle knock on her door years after to thank her. One student came to her door to pay her back for helping him buy lunch as a middle schooler. She had long forgotten about that gesture as it was really business as usual, but it was a sweet moment for her,” said Erin Cron, Arlene’s granddaughter. And that was not the only person Arlene’s helped to cover a meal.

Through her ministry in the community, Arlene created a free monthly breakfast program and food giveaways to people in need. Mayflower Church has been a part of addressing this community need for a long time, and in addition, she was the leader in the free rummage program, where they receive and distribute donations of clothing periodically. Over the years, the rummage has drawn up to 800 people each time they hosted the event. “She wanted a program to bring in any person that had a need with no questions asked,” said Erin. 

While others worked toward being different, Arlene always strived towards making a difference. Whether it was through her church, the community, or crossing paths with a stranger, Arlene remains a positively influential, enlightening, uplifting, and encouraging Siouxland treasure. Her passion for our community is unparalleled. “I believe in giving with open hands and never expecting anything back.” 

Arlene is a recipient of Women Aware’s prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. She has three children: Linda, Tom, and Marty; as well six grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. She has a great love for butterflies.
By Jetske  Wauran-Castro

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