Pay It Forward: 94-Year-Old Volunteer Shares Her Secret To A Long Life

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MUSCATINE, IOWA - If you live in Muscatine, chances are you know her.

At 94 years young, Mary Louise Caponette is small, but mighty - sweet, but meticulous.

Lori Nietzel said she noticed that right away when the two met 20 years ago.

"My first impression was - an indomitable spirit," she described. "This woman never gives up. She has an eye for detail so when you do things, she wants it to be done the way she wants it - even to picking out cucumbers. She is very precise, but fun loving."

Mary Louise spent her life in the restaurant business. She started her career when she was 19 years old and left Muscatine to move to Boston and manage upscale restaurants.

When she moved back, she gave back. For the last 24 years, she's prepared meals for the "Loaves and Fishes" Community Meal Site at the Muscatine Center for Strategic Action.

"It is a center set up to help people who are in need, displaced, or starting over," Lori explained.

"They don't have anyone to talk to," added Mary Louise. "People ignore them or people say things about them. They're like alienated. Sometimes their only outlet is Saturdays when they come down here."

"She cares and she takes care of those who are in need in a way that is not just handing out things, but doing it from her heart," said Lori.

That's why Lori wanted to Pay It Forward... "for all the love, all you've given to our community so you can continue to do your work," she said when she surprised Mary Louise.

"I just look at her and I think - you have so much energy and your body is getting more and more frail - and it just impresses me and from my heart, I just want this tribute to her," she told WQAD News 8.

It's a tribute a long time coming, but Mary Louise said she plans to Pay It Forward for as long as possible.

"That's the secret of keeping alive," she explained. "You have to give yourself. I've been that way all my life. Why should I change?"

Mary Louise said she plans to use the $300 from Ascentra Credit Union to buy food for "Loaves and Fishes." It's open every Saturday from 11:30am-12:30pm.