Marlene Huckabay had been to Moab before. Her son lived here and she liked to visit him, but this trip was different. Her son Steve’s truck broke down while they were driving on Sand Flats Road, past the landfill. It was late, so Steve made her a bed in the back and she slept while he worked on the truck.
“I woke up in the morning and we’re out on the dump road. He was asleep and I walked up on this ridge and thought, I cannot believe this,” said Huckabay.
She sat, taking in a glowing sunrise over the fins.
“I thought, this is it — I’m going to be buried here,” she said. “So [my son] woke up and I said, start looking. I’m going to buy property here.”
Huckabay moved to Moab and quickly became part of the community. More than 20 years later, she is still an active volunteer around town. She has painted children’s faces at the Moab Arts Festival and tutored reading for elementary school students. She dances the jitterbug with a woman she visits at the Canyonlands Care Center and sits with elderly folks who need company. Sometimes her volunteer work is through a formal organization and other times, she just sees a need and helps.
Huckabay was born in Salt Lake City. Before she came to Moab, she was working as a pharmaceutical sales representative in Denver. Around the time she decided to move to Moab, her company offered her an early leave. She took the offer and sold her house in Denver in preparation for her move to Moab.
In Denver, she had volunteered occasionally but most of the time, she was busy with work, Huckabay said. But living in Moab was different for her.
“I wanted to be part of this community and I had never lived in this town,” she said. “I love the fact that it is a small town. Volunteering just became part of my life.”
Huckabay got a job at a motel and worked for Canyonlands Natural History Association stocking the bookstore at Island in the Sky, but also made plenty of time for volunteering.
She volunteered for Grand County Hospice for seven years, spending time with those in hospice care. Now she volunteers every week at the Canyonlands Care Center, where she does nails and gives manicures.
“It’s so much fun because there’s not too many choices that old people have in a nursing home … It’s just a fun thing for them to pick something,” said Huckabay.
One woman, she said, does not speak often but picks the brightest red nail polish every time.
“It’s the most rewarding one I’ve ever done, which I didn’t think it would be … ” said Huckabay.
As a medical sales represresentative, she had never liked seeing people unhappy in nursing homes, she said. But she believes the care center is different.
“It’s not like a nursing home. It really is a care center. They really care about those people,” Huckabay said. “The staff there they’re just wonderful … they love [the residents].”
Huckabay has good relationships with the residents, and worries about their health, said Canyonlands Care Center Activities Director Dianne Hatch.
“She’s perky and upbeat … it’s a delight having her,” Hatch said.
Although she no longer volunteers for Grand County Hospice, people in town still ask Huckabay to spend time with individuals in poor health who need company, which she is happy to do.
Huckabay volunteers for the Moab Folk Festival as well as the Moab Music Festival, which she has been helping with since she first moved to town in 1994. She has cleaned highways with the Sierra Club and helped with the Chocolate Fling fundraiser in past years. She sat on the board of the Moab Arts and Recreation Center for four years and assisted the Museum of Moab with inventory for two years when she was new in town.
“I’ve volunteered for everything. Sometimes I think people think, maybe she’s just a cheapskate. She doesn’t want to buy a ticket to this function so she volunteers,” Huckabay said. “That’s not really the case. I’m single. I don’t have a mate. If you volunteer then you kind of have a place and I like to do it … Why not be functional? Why not contribute to our community that I love?”
Huckabay’s son, Steve, still lives in Moab. She has another son, Brent, living in Salt Lake City and a daughter, Carrie, in Phoenix. Her grandson, Andy, grew up in La Sal and is now at college in Pennsylvania. She has five grandchildren, including a brand new grandson, 3 months old, in Salt Lake City.