Whenever they head out on a road trip, retirees Jack and Mary Zarybnisky pack their sense of adventure and fill their vehicle with items to give away.
“We’ve been blessed, so we want to be a blessing to others and allow God to use us to express his love on Earth,” said Jack, 72, a semi-retired optometrist who practiced 42 years in Burley, Idaho. “We’ll go wherever the Heavenly Father guides us and give what we can. There’s so much do, and we’ve never been the type to sit around.”
They have logged countless miles on their vehicles, traveling from their rural home near Burley in southeastern Idaho to professional conferences and to visit friends and family. Jack attends continuing education sessions to maintain his optometry license, so he can write prescriptions. He also serves on an Idaho genetic counseling board and a state review board for foster care.
Since retiring in 2012, the Zarybniskys have more time for their cherished pastime—helping others. They donate food, clothing, hygiene kits, and plastic roll-up sleeping mats to people they meet, including the homeless, orphans, and children escaping the sex trade. “What we do for others energizes us,” Jack said.
Motivated by their faith and childhood experiences, “we try to live our lives helping the weak and being patient with everyone,” said Mary, referencing a favorite Bible verse, 1st Thessalonians 5:14. During her 39-year education career, she taught children, adults, and special education students.
The Zarybniskys understand how sudden uncontrollable circumstances in life lead to homelessness and hopelessness.
“My dad told me his village in Czechoslovakia was destroyed during World War II,” Jack said. “It forced his family to become transient farm workers.”
His father eventually immigrated to the United States, where Jack was born.
Mary said her parents were charitable role models.
“Growing up, I watched them help those in need, so I’ve continued doing that,” she said. “Homelessness could happen to any of us for all kinds of reasons—losing a job, a medical emergency …”
Always ready to help, they have a room in their basement with neatly organized plastic boxes filled with clothes, personal hygiene items, and school supplies.
“Chemotherapy patients really like these crocheted hats,” said Mary, who makes many of them.
They sympathize with cancer patients because Jack has been treated for skin and intestinal cancers and also has Crohn’s disease.
With their charitable reputation, they often receive anonymous donations placed in a picnic cooler they leave on their deck.
“We come home and are surprised at what we find,” Jack said. “This community is unbelievably generous. Whenever we need help, we make a few phone calls and have as many volunteers as we need, especially for a free Thanksgiving feast we’ve organized for decades.”
They rely on friendships they developed after moving to the Mini-Cassia area four decades ago as single college grads.
“People were so welcoming,” Mary said. “We didn’t know anyone when we came and lived here two years before we met each other.”
After graduating from Northwest Nazarene College, Mary found a job teaching in Rupert. One evening, parents of a student invited her to supper.
“I had no idea they were setting me up on a blind date with Jack,” Mary said.
The couple happened to be Jack’s optometric partner and his wife.
Jack said he never planned to open a practice in Idaho, but circumstances led him to Burley. After graduating from Pacific University College of Optometry in Forest Grove, Ore., he struggled to find work in his field.
“I spent the summer bucking hay bales, milking cows, tending to bees, and applying for optometry jobs,” he said.
While wondering about his professional future, he joined other optometrists traveling to Pocatello to hear a renowned eye surgeon’s presentation. On the way back home, they stopped in Burley to visit a friend, Dr. Howard Donaldson.
“He was going on vacation and asked if I’d work for him for two weeks,” Jack said. “Those two weeks turned into 42 years.”
After they married, Jack and Mary began volunteering locally at shelters, schools, and senior centers. Expanding their vision nationally, they have also donated to Airman’s Attics on Air Force bases, Ronald McDonald Houses near hospitals, and orphanages. Volunteering with Special Olympics in Idaho, Jack eventually served as the organization’s international medical director.
Mary said the reward of their charity work is watching recipients’ facial expressions.
“It’s wonderful to help people who are thinking poorly of themselves, because it helps them realize they are valuable,and their lives matter,” she said. ISI