Without them, our city would be a poorer, a more dismal place. No matter how well endowed, how carefully positioned, no agency could survive without committed volunteers raising money for the arts, for research, for homeless children, for hopeless adults.

In another era, this was how wives of industrial titans spent pent-up energy and intelligence. Today, women have other choices. Many are titans themselves. Or, at least, have careers. Yet the tradition survives.

Take Sherie Ann Marek. A degree from the University of Missouri, grad school at Ohio State, an art teacher, painter, and well-known gallery owner in Columbus before her husband Len's job with Kroger brought them to Cincinnati in 1985, she turned from paid jobs to become a mainstay of volunteerism here. She totes around an enormous three-ring binder, a kind of mondo-Franklin Planner, an anti-electronic BlackBerry for a thoroughly organized modern woman. She has served on as many as nine boards at once and chaired countless fund-raisers and benefits.

"She's not the kind of person who just loans her name to something," says Michelle Egber, executive director of the Cincinnati Wine Festival, which begins this year on Feb. 19 (for details, see the Guide to Charitable Events on page 6). Sherie is not only on the board but is co-chair of the auction.

"She knows what needs to happen, is directive without being a micromanager. She gets people excited," Michelle says. Plus "” and this is a big plus "” "she doesn't just talk a good game. She's in there, doing the work, lugging stuff around, helping with setups."

Sherie had an exceptional role model. When she was 9 months old, her father died. Her mother found a job teaching in a one-room school 15 miles from their home, a long commute over rutted country roads. "We didn't have much, but Mom had an education and a job."

Her passion these days, she says, is Dressed for Success, a program that helps women seeking employment with not only clothing but with counsel. "If we can help one mother, we can help her children and, well, maybe their children." She's hoping Dressed for Success will be one of the charities chosen for funding by the Wine Festival. The decision will be made in June, when the board will sift through applicants. Last year, more than $245,000 was given to 24 local charities. "I want to beat that," Sherie says. "There have been so many government cutbacks. Agencies are very needy."

It's not abstract or political for her. "We didn't have much when I was growing up. It's a way to do something for people who need it." This is what pulls her from the comfort of her spacious Indian Hill home to the plastic chairs and scarred tables of endless planning sessions. It's what keeps her running to as many as six meetings a day. "Just being able to help, knowing that I can pull it off. Somebody asks, and I think, 'Yeah, I can do that.' " Thoughts of her own hardscrabble childhood are always with her.

She can. And so she does.