CUBA CITY— Continuously surrounding herself with young people is Margaret Murray’s key to feeling young. Her job as a regional coordinator for the Youth Exchange Program keeps plenty of teens on her radar, but it’s her volunteering to interact with them that keeps her happy.
“I think if I join in with the kids and listen to their crazy music, it keeps you younger,” Murray said. “You’re in tune with what they are going through.”
Murray, a Cuba City area resident since 1966, was originally from Darlington.
She is the regional director of the Youth Exchange Program in four states—Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri. She has local coordinators working under her who take care of the students and report back to her. She helps the local coordinators with paperwork and supervises them.
Every fall, she takes exchange students to Chicago, Ill. Murray coordinates the arrangements. She also coordinates a trip to the Mall of America in Minnesota and supervises the students when they are in the hotels. And every spring the group goes to a Brewers game at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The trips are coordinated outside of her paid position.
“They like to see you do things with the students, but that is nothing mandatory or what you get paid for at all,” Murray said.
She said she also helps coordinate smaller get-togethers for the students, such as bowling or eating out.
“I hope that I’m bringing joy and happiness to some people’s lives,” Murray said.
Murray has been involved in the Youth Exchange Program for approximately 11 years.
“I have a lot of faith and I feel that this is something the Lord wanted me to do with my life,” Murray said.
She said she was on a trip with her granddaughter at Mitchell, S.D., when they couldn’t find a place to stay because of an event in the city. They were ready to sleep in the car when they made one more stop to ask if there were any bed and breakfasts around. They found a room 10 miles south of Mitchell.
“The next morning, I got to talking with the woman running the place and I asked her how many children she had,” Murray said. “I forget exactly, but I think she said she had eight children by six dads. She could see the question in my expression and she explained that she had six exchange students as well as children of her own. I told her it was something I always wanted to do, but that my husband had never cared for it.”
Murray and her granddaughter drove home the next day and Murray got a phone call from the woman at the bed and breakfast. She had previously told Murray about a German girl she didn’t know where to place and called to ask Murray to host the German girl.
“I didn’t give it two seconds of thought,” Murray said. “I didn’t know her name or anything about her at all. I just said ‘Yes, I will.’ They sent me the information and it was Vera, and we got along like a glove. She’s been back to see me four or five times and I’ve been to Germany four times to see her. She’s my German daughter. I had such a wonderful experience with her. My children were all grown and I wanted to give other people a chance to feel what was in my heart.”
She said now she cares what happens in Germany because she knows people there. It opened her eyes to other parts of the world.
“I learned all of the things you don’t do [when hosting an exchange student],” Murray said. “She [Vera] had a representative, but it's a good thing we got along so well because she wouldn’t have had any help from her program coordinator. I dialed this number for the coordinator, who lived about four hours north. I asked for the gentleman and the lady who answered told me the guy got fired 10 years ago. I was shocked that this was the contact information we were given. This lady worked for the Youth Exchange Program and from our conversation thought I’d be good at it. I didn’t fill out a form or an application. They called me and I was hired. I feel that this is where God wanted me. Through no place to stay and a wrong number, that is how I got into Youth Exchange.”
She has been able to travel extensively because she is given a trip every year through the program.
Murray has four children; three live in Texas and the fourth is in Milwaukee. She has 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
“I love kids,” Murray said. “I would have had a dozen if I could have. I drove school bus for 28 years.”
Editor's Note: This column is a special addition to the Tri-County Press on a monthly basis. Look for each installment near the end of the month. All volunteers are recomended for the article by Mayor Tom Gile. If you have ideas for future volunteers in the community to be recognized, contact Gile at 608-744-3203.