A simple kindness stuck with St. Mary’s Delaney Wolf, who has repaid the favor many times over

By Nicole Haase

For St. Mary’s junior Delaney Wolf, the time she has spent volunteering and serving her community has helped her create a home in Winona.

Originally from Bismarck, North Dakota, Wolf went to St. Mary’s having only ever met her hockey coach. She arrived on campus knowing no other students and having never spoken to a professor. Homesickness set in quickly and it’s something the junior said she still struggles with, living more than 500 miles away from her family.

Wolf has always been a joiner. She holds a 3.9 cumulative GPA while majoring in biochemistry and Spanish. She’s the captain of the St. Mary’s women’s hockey team. She plays French horn in the school band. And she volunteers 30 or so hours per month on campus, within the Winona community and across the river in Wisconsin.

She’s kept the yearning for her original home at bay by creating a new one in Winona. She’s a part of the community on campus and off.

“It has become a second home and that’s because I become involved in like as many things as I can be,” Wolf said. “Hockey is my home. I have sisters on the team. One of my bandmates invited me over for dinner my freshman year and made my day. I didn’t know anybody on campus and it was too short to go home because of hockey and she invited me over for dinner. It was just those little actions that was not really volunteering, but it really is (service). Helping others and being involved with them is really what makes something a community and what makes it a home.”

The invitation to dinner was a simple kindness that has stuck with Wolf, who believes in the power of small acts. She loves to cook and finds comfort in the community that can be created around food. She hosts hockey team dinners in the preseason to welcome freshmen and facilitate team bonding.

“I guess it is more about the service,” Wolf said. “I’m a big believer that little things matter. You hear cliché quotes all the time like you can make somebody’s day by smiling, but that’s really true. You can do so much with just little everyday things, so why not at least try. It doesn’t take that much for me to go into a long-term care facility and see the residents who live there. It makes their day interesting just to have somebody else come in and be there; to have someone else to talk to you. And if I can do that small thing, why not? It helps them have a better life and it makes me happy to see them. It’s so easy, so why not do it?”

Wolf said she started volunteering because friends were doing service through their church and other groups. The first time she went, she was nervous. But once she felt comfortable, she didn’t feel like she needed a friend or an excuse to go back. Just showing up — especially the first time — is the hardest part, but it’s so worth overcoming that initial trepidation.

“I became more confident in myself and I could step outside of depending on a friend or organization like hockey to do it for me. I kind of grew into doing it for myself and for other people,” she said. “Just jump in and do it, because the hardest thing is showing up the first day and not knowing what you’re doing or who you’re going to be working with. The hardest part is just showing up the first time. Once you do, you can make it something you do all the time.”

For some people, volunteerism is tied to a particular cause or organization, but Wolf’s resume of service includes the Winona Warming Center, two animal rescue groups, St. Mary’s outdoor leader program, Spanish tutoring and time spent at St. Anne extended health care facility, where she does everything from planning an events calendar to calling Sunday Bingo.

During the semester, Wolf’s life is rigidly scheduled, which can be good and bad. Her volunteering fits naturally into the spaces that are open after school and practices.

“I like to be busy,” she said. “Doing things was never hard. It was never (a question of) if I should do it. You’ll do it if it’s really worth doing. And for me it was.”

Life on a smaller campus can feel like being under a microscope, where everyone seems to know what’s going on with everyone else. Volunteering off campus helps Wolf keep perspective. There’s a slower pace and she’s not focused on what’s next or who expects things from her. Studying Spanish has helped her develop a better understanding of the greater world and it has opened doors to new people and cultures, she said. Her work in the community serves a similar goal of getting outside her bubble and gaining perspective.

Wolf also credits her coach Sarah Murray with helping spark her commitment to volunteering and pushed her from doing some small things to making service a much bigger part of her life.

“Through hockey we’ve done a lot of volunteer work in the last year,” Wolf said. “Sarah has been very big on promoting volunteerism and having us get involved in the Winona community, and that’s been a very big motivator for me and just like realizing the importance of volunteerism, specifically in Winona.”

While the hockey team is required to do a minimum of two hours of volunteering per month, Murray said Wolf averages more than 30 hours per month.

Murray joked that Wolf doesn’t sleep at night, though Wolf insists that she does — with the exception of a the few nights per month where she puts in an overnight shift at the Winona Warming Center, a temporary emergency housing facility that is open from November to March to assist the homeless population of Winona. But that’s exactly the sort of selflessness that Murray said she didn’t know about until she nominated Wolf.

“On our team, we try to promote getting involved in the community and what it means to be selfless; to put others needs before our own,” Murray said. “Our team mantra for the season is ‘Give More — Be More.’ The idea is the more you give to your studies, the better student you will be; the harder you work both on the ice and in the weight room, the better athlete you will be; and the more you give to others, the better friend, daughter, member of the community you will be.

“Delaney doesn’t think what she does is a big deal. She doesn’t do what she does to get credit for it and until I nominated her for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, I didn’t know half of what she did. Delaney goes above and beyond with the volunteering. It’s an incredible honor to have Delaney nominated as a top-five finalist for this award and to get recognized for everything she does to help others.”

Wolf is preparing to take the MCAT and is hoping to do a dual PhD/MD program when she graduates so she can focus both on patient care and research.

“If you can specialize in patient care through medicine, along with research, there’s so many more ways you can figure out what is the best way to help,” she said. “Knowing the research side of it and the very nitty gritty details on how stuff works (helps find the best possible treatment).”

Inherently, Wolf is an overachiever who wants to take care of people. It only makes sense that her future plans take serving others to a whole new level.