Surely, the woman insisted to Catherine Cryan Erney, her husband must be Arabic.
Erney, a founding board member of the Clintonville Farmers Market, had just presented a Thanksgiving dinner, cooked halal-style in accordance with Muslim law, to the woman and her friends, who originally came to this country from the Middle East. They were at the market as part of a program to involve non-native English speakers in cooking and sharing food.
Erney assured the woman her husband, Ken, isn't Arabic. She merely prepared the dinner for the women out of respect.
The woman began to cry, and that made "Cat" Erney, as friends call her, start to cry as well.
"As different as our lives may be," she said last week, "it's something that we have in common."
Erney, who is preparing to retire from a career in commercial real estate, is the 2014 Clintonville Area Chamber of Commerce's ThisWeek Booster Community Volunteer of the Year.
She was nominated for the honor jointly by farmers market board President Sharon Crook West and Cliff Wiltshire, development director at the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resources Center, where Erney led an effort last year to create a proper children's library.
Erney first learned she had been named Community Volunteer of the Year when Anand Saha, owner of Mozart's Bakery and Piano Cafe and an ardent CRC supporter, offered congratulations on her Facebook page.
"And I didn't know anything about it or what it was for," she said last week. "I was kind of flabbergasted. I was really surprised."
"Early last year, I put out a call on Facebook for contributions to help rebuild the CRC's children's library corner," Wiltshire wrote in his nomination. "We wanted to return it to the welcoming, engaging place it once was and also to upgrade the offerings that children could take home with them. Cathy was one of the first to respond, and she not only gathered her own donations but (also) rallied others to contribute."
Erney's home became donation central for children's books, Wiltshire said. She also convinced the Clintonville Mom's Club to donate $200 to the project and help with supplies and paint to spruce up the area of what then was the CRC's headquarters on West Lakeview Avenue.
"This turned out to be a wonderful project for the CRC and the many children who accompany their parents to receive services from the settlement house, and we are grateful for the important role that Cat played in making this happen," Wiltshire wrote.
"It's wonderful to know that when people go there to get food for their families, their children go home with books," said Erney, who added an entire community backed the project.
In her nomination essay, West said Erney brings a wealth of institutional knowledge and historical perspective to the farmers market board.
"She doesn't just sit at board meetings and opine. She rolls up her sleeves to help set guidelines for the market, recruit excellent new board members and select the growers and producers who will bring their best to our community," West wrote. "We bow to her organization, enthusiasm and determination and strongly urge the committee to recognize her contributions to our community, not just for 2013 but in the past and, we hope, well into the future."
Erney plans to retire in the spring. She said she would like to appear in plays with local theater groups -- something she did before turning to commercial real estate. She will remain involved with the farmers market, she said, helping to move toward a "zero-waste" policy.
Erney has a son, David Hudson. He and his wife live in Worthington with their two daughters, Audrey and Amelia. Catherine and Ken Erney have two daughters. Eleanor Erney is a student at Georgetown Law School, and Rosalynd Erney works for Lutheran Volunteer Services, also in Washington, D.C.
Erney will be among three honorees at the chamber's 2014 Celebrate Clintonville Awards Dinner and Silent Auction, set Feb. 28 at the Fawcett Center.
Recent winners of the Community Volunteer of the Year award include Mary Rodgers of the Clintonville Historical Society; Judy Robinson of Shaklee Products; Jim Caronis of Operation Buckeye; resident John Umpleby; and Indian Springs volunteer Charlie Walker.
The chamber's Business Person of the Year, Jessica Kehn of Artisan Dance Studio, and the Business of the Year, Northstar Cafe, also will be honored during the event.