If you want to get in touch with Kay Struffolino, you’d best plan ahead.
The 71-year-old Cary resident doesn’t exactly sit at home, and even though she’s been officially retired for more than 10 years now, it’s rare that a minute goes by when she’s not keeping herself busy.
“I always say, ‘It’s harder to hit a moving target,’” said Struffolino with a smile. “I’m a busybody by nature, and I have to be around people and activity. I can’t stand having nothing to do.”
For the past 40 years, Struffolino has brought that enthusiasm and energy to bear on a variety of causes, projects and volunteer programs in the Town of Cary, earning her awards left and right. She has received Cary’s Hometown Spirit Award; the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association’s Raburn “Rip” Jackson Award; the Town of Cary Cultural Arts Volunteer of the Year Award; and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources’ Herb Young Volunteer of the Year Award and Seniors Impacting Seniors Award.
But don’t try to get Struffolino to talk about these types of awards. She is embarrassed at the idea of recognition for what she’s contributed to Cary, and if you didn’t know better, she’d have you believing that everything she has done is perfectly unremarkable.
She caught the volunteer bug shortly after her children were born, getting involved in their lives in a number of ways, from room mother to scout leader to track coach and more. Then in 1972, her husband’s job brought the family to Cary from Pittsburgh.
Struffolino’s daughter had been very involved in the girls’ track program at her school in Pennsylvania, and when they realized that there wasn’t a similar program at the school in Cary, Struffolino helped to start one at both the junior high (now East Cary Middle School) and Cary High School. She maintained her involvement by coaching and officiating for many years, both at the middle and high schools and at N.C. State.
But, as Struffolino will tell you, music is her life, so it wasn’t long after her move to Cary that she got involved with the North Carolina Symphony.
“All of my studies have been classical, all my performances have been classical, everything has been classical, and that’s the only kind of music I like,” said Struffolino. “So we were probably here less than a year when I found the N.C. Symphony and went to a concert.”
At that concert, Struffolino found a flier tucked into her program, asking for volunteers to answer telephones. She went to the office on Monday morning and said she’d take an all-day shift on Mondays — if they’d let her have an hour off at lunchtime so she could pick up food for the Meals on Wheels program and bring it back to Cary.
And that involvement with the symphony, as Struffolino likes to say, “snowballed.” After about a year, the CEO asked if she wanted a part-time job on the staff. Eventually that job grew and she ultimately became production manager and Summerfest coordinator, working for the symphony for 21 years.
“That was probably my favorite job,” said Struffolino. “Where else could you have a job perk of listening to a nationally ranked symphony every day?”
Much of Struffolino’s volunteer work has blossomed from her involvement in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. She cleans up R.S. “Dad” Dunham Park in Cary, which was named for a friend of hers. She’s on the festivals committee and helps to plan Spring Daze and Lazy Daze every year. She’s been on the department’s advisory board off and on since the early ’90s and is currently serving as the liaison for a new park the town is getting ready to build. She volunteers at the Senior Center, as well as with the Cary Cross Currents Chamber Music Arts Festival. In short, if it’s something under the umbrella of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources in Cary, you can count on Kay Struffolino having been a part of it.
“My daughter keeps asking me if I ever say no,” said Struffolino. “But it just seems like things piggyback on each other. So it’s not like I’m taking on something new, it’s just a continuation of what I’m doing. So, it’s hard to say no.”
Despite all she has done for the community, Struffolino feels like she’s the one who has benefitted from her volunteerism and service.
“We’d be here the rest of the day and into tomorrow if I told you all the benefits I’ve gotten out of volunteering,” she said. “It’s just been enormous. I can’t count the number of friendships I’ve made.”
But even more important was the fact that her early volunteer work allowed her to spend time with her two kids and be involved in their lives.
“To me, if you have kids, it’s critical. You can find something. No matter how busy your life is, you can find something to keep a role in your kids’ lives.
“Beyond that, I think it’s important to give something back to the community, leave a place better than you found it. There are so many opportunities; it just grates on my nerves to hear someone say, ‘I have nothing to do’ or, ‘There’s nothing to do.’ Well, sit down and let me show you a list. But that’s just my nature.”