Shirley Ann Donathan's Bath County friends and neighbors played a trick on her recently.
They lured her down to the Bath County Courthouse in Owingsville on a Saturday morning by asking her to provide food for the presentation of the annual Bath County Community Service Volunteer Award.
Then, just as Donathan was starting to serve the homemade biscuits she'd whipped up for the event, they presented her with the 2008 volunteer service award in recognition of her many years of quiet service to the county and its residents.
The surprised Donathan suddenly found herself in the spotlight — quite a reversal for someone who has spent so much of her life working in the background to help others.
A lifelong resident of the county, Donathan works at a convenience store in Owingsville, where she cooks up breakfast every morning for people on their way to work. But she is best known for helping others.
For years, the word around Bath County has been that if you have benefit campaign to organize, or public event to put on, you need to have Shirley Donathan working in the trenches to pull it off. Whether it's knocking on doors or cooking up tons of food, she has always been there, local folks say.
But beyond all of Donathan's involvement in official benefit campaigns and events, residents say she has quietly devoted her life to reaching out to neighbors in need.
James P. "Sonny" Rawlings, who conceived the volunteer award, says it's intended to honor those who work in the background with little recognition. Donathan more than fits that bill, he says.
According to Rawlings, there are numerous stories of Donathan buying food or clothing for people in need around Bath County— often sacrificing her own needs to do it — or making sure that someone has a way to get to the doctor.
Marcell Doggett, who works for Christian Social Services, Inc., in Bath County, says Donathan "helps people that we cannot reach, and refuses any compensation for it."
Someone once asked Donathan how she was able to recognize people genuinely in need of help.
"I can tell by the look in their eyes," she replied. "I know that look, because I've had it myself."
Donathan grew up in a family of 16 children and life often was a struggle. Several years ago, she developed leukemia, but survived thanks to a bone marrow transplant from one of her sisters.
Having been through hard times, it's perhaps no surprise that Donathan has devoted herself to helping others.
Donathan is the second recipient of the Bath County award. In recognition, a granite tile bearing her name has been embedded in the brick walk in front of the courthouse.