Visitors to her house can’t make it 10 feet without seeing – or smelling – evidence of one of her charitable acts. Her daily ritual of getting up at 5 a.m. often begins with work. By 5:30 a.m. Monday, Herendeen was already baking cookies for the Hospice Thrift Shoppe in Antioch.
A few hours later, her next charitable act was already percolating in her mind. This time she pondered doing something for veterans who could benefit from owning dogs. “I might just have to get in on that,” Herendeen said. “As a volunteer, I’ve always been in a class of my own. Most volunteers I’ve found over the years are people that feel very strongly about one thing. I’ve never aligned myself with one thing or one group. I want to do it all.”
Herendeen has nearly done it all for organizations and individuals in need since retiring in 1993 from her job as an administrative assistant for former Contra Costa County Supervisor Nancy Fahden.
Performing charitable acts an estimated 20 hours per week, Herendeen has thousands of good deeds to her name. Her latest included raising $10,000 in four weeks for the Antioch Police Department to purchase a new police dog.
When she joined the nonprofit Antioch Schools Education Foundation in 1999, she was nominated as president of an annual Teacher of the Year Dinner. Since then, she has served as secretary, vice president and chairwoman of the annual event that gives an exceptional teacher $1,000 to spend in the classroom and another check for personal use.
The War Dog Memorial in Antioch wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for Herendeen’s donation created through the sale of dog tags.
When the nonprofit organization Friends of Roswell Butler Hard House needed money before they went before the Antioch City Council to try to acquire the Roswell Butler Hard House for the creation of a public history museum, she dished out $1,000 of her own funds.
“When she believes in something, she gives it her all,” said community activist Martha Parsons. “She’s just a wonder.”
If the animals at the Antioch Animal Services Center could talk, they’d probably thank Herendeen. Several times annually, she donates money to the shelter. “I don’t know why I do the things I do,” Herendeen said. “I see a problem and I don’t wait for other people to do anything. I see what I can do.”
In her earlier years, she thought up a nonprofit program called Footsteps, in which she would collect the shoes of famous people and bring them to local youth in hopes it would spur discussion about character building and help them follow in the footsteps of positive role models.
She’s never been afraid to tackle a challenge, no matter how big, and do it with a wry wit. After collecting the shoes of baseball star Vida Blue and football star O.J Simpson, Herendeen got turned down in a letter from Gov. Jerry Brown.
“I called him up and spoke with this real nice lady,” Herendeen said. “I thanked her for the letter, then said, ‘I understand when you walk on water, you can’t give up your shoes.’”
She’s also not afraid to take on dangerous missions. A former resident of Martinez, she once got word that a man was exposing himself to children along a walking path to a school. Since local police couldn’t maneuver a vehicle along the path, she got her horse, confronted the man, took his picture and later let the police borrow her horse so they could access the trail.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is I can do it all.” Herendeen said.
In the spirit of volunteerism, Herendeen gives more than she receives. She sends out 250 to 300 cards yearly for such things as anniversaries and birthdays. She also routinely bakes cookies and brings them to those she believes deserve a kind gesture. Deliveries have been made everywhere from local car dealerships – after she felt the city treated them unfairly – to the local U.S. post office and Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Her volunteerism led to her becoming the first-ever Antioch Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 2007.
But Herendeen has also learned how to overcome failure. A few of her volunteer efforts have fizzled. The Footsteps program ran out of money. After she donated a large trailer to a nonprofit to be used by other nonprofit organizations as a mobile resource center, she learned the organization ran out of money. In another idea gone awry, Contra Costa County officials struck down Herendeen’s effort to put ATMs in libraries so people without cash wouldn’t have an excuse to not pay their fines.
“I’ve had a lifetime of things where I put it all together, but it goes to putty,” she said.
Through it all, she has remained optimistic and shows little signs of slowing down. “I just keep going,” she said. “All it takes to be a volunteer is to see a need and do something about it.”