When Long Island, New York, native Melissa “Missy” Rubin agreed to marry Dr. Arthur Rubin in 1975, she wasn’t quite sure what life would be like in Lewisburg, West Virginia, but she made the move with him to the Mountain State and found her calling.
Missy experienced what she described as slight culture shock, but she leaned on family and service to fill her days.
“It’s kind of what I’ve always done,” Missy said of community service. “I’ve just always been involved in the community. I guess I was always a people person, too. Learning to go with what you are is really important.”
Her mother had orthopedic issues and spent time Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York. After Missy visited, she was driven to volunteer for anyone who needed help.
“Fortunately, we lived off my husband’s salary and I took my volunteer work in West Virginia very seriously because I was able to,” she said.
She started within the osteopathic community at her husband’s school.
The couple had their first daughter and Art went on rotations, followed by an internship year in Dayton, Ohio, before returning to Charleston, West Virginia.
“He always told me (Charleston) was where he wanted to be, and my mother-in-law helped me get to know people in Charleston.”
A big project Missy helped spearhead was a pre-school at the B’nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston, which lasted several years. She found friends at Berry Hills Country Club while playing tennis and golf over the years, and fundraising started piling up.
“I had already started working with the synagogue on fundraising, I was president of the ladies’ auxiliary, and I had gotten involved in the community in other ways,” she said. “I had done West Virginia Symphony League, and then some friends of mine had asked me to go on the YWCA Board, so first I started out just on one of the committees, then ended up on the board, then I ended up on the executive board.”
Missy said the YWCA was going through turmoil and constantly raising money for the building when she oversaw fund development. She pushed the group to create a capital campaign rather than asking for money here and there, but the community pushed back. It took litigation before the issues were resolved and the group raised the $1 million necessary for its building. At the same time, Missy was asked to work with the Clay Center. She helped with the groundbreaking and opening, saying she was inspired by John McClaugherty and his vision for the center, to bring big-city art and theater experiences to the Mountain State.
“I could never work for a charity if I didn’t have a passion for it, and that’s what it really came down to,” she said. “The charities I did the most for were my synagogue, which most people would understand; the YWCA, because it helps women that are in need and it really did open my eyes to a lot of the needs of West Virginia; the Clay Center, because of its purpose; and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, where my husband received his education."
Missy said all the Charleston merchants know her, not only because she’s a good customer who believes in buying local, but also because she’s not shy about asking for donations. She has seen shifting trends in community service over the years.
“All of these events and charitable things are going to fall to the wayside if young people don’t step up,” she said. “I met a lot of my close friends from the different volunteer jobs I’ve had … Being in these different charities and groups introduced me to a lot of different people.”
She says if young people see their parents volunteering, they’re encouraged to do it themselves. Her daughters were brought up to be involved, and now her grandchildren are carrying on the tradition.
“One of the things I have done and my girls have done is serving Christmas dinner at Manna Meal,” she said. “When I did the groundbreaking for the Clay Center, we didn’t have enough volunteers that morning, so I called my 17-year-old at home and gave her a half hour to get down there and help me. They’ve never balked.”
Missy has two more pieces of advice for volunteering and event planning. She never does an event without a plan B, and the word “no” is important.
Missy describes herself as a person who does what needs to be done, but credits her husband of 42 years for allowing her to serve in so many capacities.
“It’s like a job you love, but you can pick and choose,” she said. “You get up in the morning and say, ‘I’ve got to go to see so-and-so and discuss this and that,’ and it’s a good challenge for me mentally. It keeps me going and gives me purpose and, fortunately, it’s appreciated.”
YWCA Charleston is excited to honor Missy alongside the other 2018 Women of Achievement on March 2 at Embassy Suites. To attend or sponsor the event, visit www.ywcacharleston.org/woa.