Surprise, Mary Lou: Jeeps brighten superfan’s day

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
The Northeast Dubois volleyball team surprises St. Charles resident and long-time fan Mary Lou Zehr with a signed volleyball at the senior living community in Jasper on Friday. Zehr has been attending Northeast Dubois volleyball games for nearly 40 years but has missed this season due to an injury she received last December. "I'll be looking at these all night," Zehr said. "I'm very proud. I love them. They've been a big part of my life." 


JASPER — Mary Lou Zehr was always there.

Before every Northeast Dubois High School girls volleyball game, the 73-year-old Dubois woman would high-five members of the team. She’d hug them all when matches ended. And she’d always offer head coach Misty Smith a heartfelt reminder when it was time to leave.

“You don’t need to improve on anything,” Smith said, recalling Zehr’s postgame talks. “You’re perfect the way you are. That’s what she tells us always.”

Zehr is hopeful to return home in the coming weeks so she can make it to the team’s last game, or possibly the sectional game.

The unconditional love Zehr gives to the team did not go unnoticed. When players and coaches realized she wasn’t in her regular front row seat at home games this season, they wondered. Where is Mary Lou?

A nasty fall sent Zehr to the hospital, and she’s now recovering and rehabbing at St. Charles Health Campus in Jasper. She feels better, but due to the injury, she hadn’t seen the players, coaches and managers she loves so dearly.

So, they came to her.

In the early evening on Friday, members of the school’s volleyball program marched into Zehr’s room with bright faces and open arms.

Zehr has dealt with many medical issues in the past year. On Friday, the team handed her a volleyball autographed by all the members of the program, and, if only for a moment, her life was lightened.

“You know I think about you guys all the time,” Zehr told the players and coaches as she fought back happy tears. “And I love each and every one of you.”

Zehr’s history with the school’s volleyball program dates back 40 years. She drove the team’s busses for three decades — disciplining the players, celebrating victories with them and crying with them when games didn’t go their way.

“You made my day,” Zehr told the players before they left. “And I’m glad you came.”

“Sometimes, you know, you could feel like you wanna strangle them,” she said, jokingly, of her bus driving days. “But yet, you love them.”

Zehr drove buses for and supports other teams at Northeast Dubois, too. But she is especially fond of the volleyballers. Though she never played, it’s her favorite sport.

In recent years, she’s cemented herself as a superfan who rarely misses a game. The school’s 13-member team is small compared to some of the schools they play, and Zehr said her passion for rooting on the volleyball players is strong because she never wants them to lose confidence in themselves.

They’re good girls, she said. She admires the fight they put in every time they take the court, even if they don’t win.

“But they try very hard, and they work hard, too,” she said. “And I know Misty’s good to them, and she works them hard. She’s a good coach.”

After the surprise visit, a few players reflected on how much Zehr means to them.

“She always supports us,” said Taylor Dodd, a senior outside hitter. “So, for us to go in there and support her whenever she’s not feeling the best felt really good.”

Added junior libero Mia Smith: “I miss walking out of the locker room and always giving her a hug. She’s always there to support us. It’s been different this year without her.”

Zehr is hopeful to return home in the coming weeks so she can make it to the team’s last game, or possibly the sectional game.

She chatted, laughed and hugged with the team for about 15 minutes before they parted ways. Smith said the team will be back if Zehr’s stay at the senior living facility runs long.

“You made my day,” Zehr told them all before they left. “And I’m glad you came.”

More on