JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Sue Manley still cries at the mere mention of her high school sweetheart and husband's name. Twenty-three years have passed since cancer claimed Dennis Manley's life at age 47.
"I know that my husband is in a better place and I want to be there so I can join him someday," Manley said. "I can go on and do something that makes me feel good. Makes the people around me feel good."
Manley is known for her cooking and entertaining—not just family and friends, but many others who have nowhere to go during holidays. She keeps score at Brookland ballgames and works as the site manager for Brookland Elementary's after-school program, called "Cat Club."
"She is just one of the most kind and giving people I've ever met," Stephanie Davis said. Davis wrote a letter nominating Manley for the award.
"Sue cooks for her family of approximately 25 every Sunday after church. She cooks for the Brookland high school football team. She cooks for funerals at her church. As an active member of the Brookland Church of Christ, she cooks for bible studies, bible school and other occasions where she can be of service," Davis said, wiping tears as she talked about her colleague and the impact Manley had on her life.
"I just can't think of one person who deserves this more than Miss Sue," Davis said.
So while a very unsuspecting Manley was inside Brookland Elementary, representatives from First Community Bank, Sue's family and myself gathered outside.
"Sue is an amazing woman," Joanie Williams, Manley's younger sister said. "She's just got a loving, Christ-like heart."
Williams joined the growing throng outside. Soon the group got the all-clear sign to go inside for the big surprise. Snaking our way through hallways, we come upon Manley's office near the back of the school, close to the gymnasium.
"November is the month when we count our blessings. Today, we are counting our blessings for you and all that you do," I said to a shocked Manley.
"I'm gonna cry," Manley exclaimed. Overwhelmed and overjoyed, Manley witnessed what her kindness has done for others. A crowd of more than 50 stood outside the office waiting to hug her and offer congratulations.
"Time is short," Manley said. "We need to live every day to the fullest."
She said her motivation for helping others comes directly from the loss of her husband.
"He coached Little League programs and basketball," Manley said. "He just loved sports."
Dennis Manley passed away when his children were young. Now they are grown with children of their own.
"I know it's crazy," Manley said. "It's been 23 years, but I miss him so much. I look at his kids and I'll cry….I'm sorry." Manley turns away from the camera.
"They had a very Christian relationship…very devoted to their church and their church family," Phyllis Hancock, Manley's other sister said.
Dennis Manley coached elementary programs and baseball up to Jr. Babe Ruth until he passed away.
"He just made friends with the kids and they would come up to the gym a couple of times a week," Manley explained.
So, instead of allowing grief to overtake her life, Manley keeps life full of doing for others.
"Whatever it is, she is going to cook something or find some way to help," Davis said. "She just gives 100 percent of herself all the time."
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