They’re seldom seen, but behind-the-scenes volunteers are everywhere
By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, LESTER PRAIRIE, HOWARD LAKE, WAVERLY, MN It can be hard to find them, but you know they’re there.
They’re the people who might not be in charge of formal volunteer organizations, but still spend countless hours serving others.
It could be anything providing a ride to the airport, visiting the sick, donating their earnings to neighbors in need, or maintaining a football field.
In their own unique ways, these “invisible angels” have helped shape their communities without thought of compensation or recognition.
“It’s fun to be able to help people when they need it,” said one anonymous local volunteer. “I think we get more enjoyment out of helping them than they get out of receiving it.”
And, although these shy volunteers prefer to stay out of the limelight, a few were willing to share their experiences:
A constructive talent
“I like to be behind the scenes,” Patrick Kittock of Waverly commented. “Somebody has to get the job done, and if I’m not busy, it’s a good time to help out.”
As a retired carpenter, Kittock’s expertise has been invaluable during the lower-level construction at St. Mary’s Church in Waverly.
“Last spring, another contractor [Dan Schaible of Howard Lake] and I installed about 30 doors down there,” Kittock said.
The project started about five years ago with construction of a youth room. A restroom was added the following season. Soon, the lower level will be home to several new classrooms and administrative offices.
Hope for the holidays
As Lester Prairie High School senior Genna Jeurissen can attest, volunteerism can start at any age.
“Knowing that I can make a difference in someone’s life just by doing simple things makes me happy,” said Genna, the daughter of Rick and Mindy Jeurissen.
As student council president, Genna recently helped organize a “tip night,” set for Tuesday, Dec. 10 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Unhinged Pizza in Glencoe. The event will raise money to buy gift baskets for local families who could use a lift this holiday season.
Recipients are nominated through an application process at Lester Prairie school, and are selected by the student council.
Another Hope for the Holidays fundraiser Genna set up is $1 donut sales, which will take place before school Monday, Dec. 16 though Friday, Dec. 20.
Seventy-five-year-old Curt Levang of Howard Lake knows that volunteerism can be a lifelong endeavor.
Many are retired by his age, but Levang continues to work full time as a financial consultant, giving away much of his earnings.
“I’ve been blessed; I’ve been given the opportunities and the health to do it,” Levang said. “You don’t want to squander away anything the Lord has given you.”
Others have described Levang as an “exceedingly generous individual,” and for good reason. He shares his garden produce with St. John’s Lutheran Church in Howard Lake each harvest, and also financially manages several scholarships for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School District.
“The scholarships started in 1982, after my secretary, Phyllis Main, died of cancer,” said Levang, former Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) principal.
The Phyllis Main Memorial Scholarship was established with $6,000 raised by local fifth-graders. Today, the fund has more than $41,000.
Levang said there are many opportunities to serve others, regardless of a person’s interests, skills, or stage of life.
“When you don’t, you’re selling yourself short,” he said.
Another generous individual is Charlie Bush, who taught at HLWW for 41 years. Bush helped start a Guardian Angel Fund at the school a few years ago, which discreetly helps students in emergencies.
“School staff can have $5 or $10 taken out of their paychecks if they choose,” Bush said, adding that the fund is administered by St. Mary’s Church in Waverly.
Bush’s wife, Pam, has also found a way to give to HLWW students. Each year, she makes a set of warm winter hats for Jessica Bogdan’s kindergarten class.
“She has done this for all the years I have taught kindergarten six years,” Bogdan noted, adding that the Bush family also donated seven new backpacks for children whose backpacks are lost, old, or broken.
Time to teach
Holy Trinity School in Winsted has several dedicated volunteers, as well.
Tammy Pokornowski, for example, spends hours with elementary students each week, helping them with literacy and computer skills.
“The fourth-graders are reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’ right now,” Pokornowski said.
She added that one perk of volunteering has been getting to know her own children’s classmates.
“It’s kind of cool,” she said. “The third-graders say ‘Hi Mom!’ when I come in.”
A widespread volunteer opportunity at Holy Trinity School is the Advent Angel Project.
“We used to do a gift exchange between faculty and staff members (for those who wanted to participate), exchanging gifts at the faculty/staff Christmas party,” noted Holy Trinity’s campus minister Elaine Kahle.
A few years ago, someone had the idea to instead take up a collection for a family in the Winsted area or part of the Holy Trinity family.
“Some families have had major medical bills, another had a terrible accident, one had a death in the family, and another ended up losing their home,” Kahle noted.
Donations are completely voluntary, and in the past, between $700 to $800 has been raised for these families.
The golden rule
For Larry and Darlene Mader (who live between Howard Lake and Cokato), volunteering is about treating others the way they would want to be treated.
Back when their children were in the Dassel-Cokato School District, the couple enjoyed being part of the Music Boosters, despite a busy schedule.
“At that time, I was working for G&K Services, traveling around the country, and probably working 60 to 70 hours a week,” Larry recalled. “As the saying goes, ‘if you want something done, find the busy person.’”
Nowadays, Darlene helps with Meals on Wheels, and Larry spends his volunteer efforts with the Waverly Knights of Columbus.
“We do a lot with Special Olympics, and we also sponsor the Cub Scout Pack 494,” Larry said. “I like volunteering, because you get to meet a lot of people.”
Rich Baumann of Winsted, who helps cook at fundraisers for the Winsted American Legion, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Order of Foresters, also enjoys the camaraderie of volunteering.
“It’s a lot of fun working with the guys,” he said.
Wherever at Winstock
Behind the scenes volunteering is how Winsted resident Ron Otto prefers to spend his time, too.
For the past 18 years, he’s been involved in general site preparation and maintenance for the Winstock Country Music Festival.
“I just enjoy people and enjoy doing the event,” said Otto, whose duties range from garbage cleanup, to maintaining fencing, to working with area farmers to ensure the campgrounds are ready to go each year.
“I just go wherever I’m needed,” he said. “I can’t give myself all the credit, though. There are close to 800 volunteers that help. I’m just a little part of it.”