Senior volunteers honored for outstanding service

BIG RAPIDS – While some retirees choose to spend their golden years in leisure, 297 senior citizens in Mecosta, Osceola and Lake counties spend a portion of their free time serving others.

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program connects people 55 years of age and older with local non-profit organizations offering volunteer opportunities. The program participants, staff and partnering organization leaders came together Wednesday at the Big Rapids Eagles Lodge No. 2535 to honor seniors who went above and beyond to help others during the past year.

“Volunteers enroll in our program, we place them out in the community and they serve for hours and hours,” said Sandy Dalrymple, RSVP director. “Our volunteers make our community stronger and our world brighter. They are valuable in more ways than words can say.”

RSVP honored those senior citizens who reached 1,000 hours of volunteer service in the past year as well as named the volunteer of the year in each of the three counties at the organization’s 39th annual event.

Fourteen individuals were recognized for the achievement that they are eligible for only once.

Norita Morey, Kathy Bigham, Mary Clark, Bob Clark, Sharon Ryan, Nancy Wallace, Joan Wellnitz, Rosemary Cousineau, Patricia Rosales and Ruth Tyson served 1,000 hours in Mecosta County and Dotty Hamilton, Jack Kerr and Bonnie Merrill did the same in Lake County.

Susan Groh was the only volunteer to reach her first 1,000 hours of volunteering in Osceola County and also was honored with that county’s Volunteer of the Year award.

“I figured I’d have the 1,000 hours, but not be (Volunteer of the Year),” Groh said.

In her third year participating in RSVP, Groh volunteers as a driver every day. She transports individuals unable to drive themselves to medical appointments and to the grocery store, as well as serving as an on-call driver for the Department of Human Services.

Kathy Bigham was given the Volunteer of the Year Award for Mecosta County. She volunteers as a driver for the Mecosta County Commission on Aging and said she is on the road most days of the week.

“I always tell everyone - If I stay home I have to clean my house, so I might as well be out driving,” Bigham said.

Along with being recognized for 1,000 hours of volunteering, Lake County’s Dotty Hamilton won the Volunteer of the Year award for her county after two years with the program.

Hamilton volunteers with her husband, Charles, and said she couldn’t help but say yes when she first heard the RSVP program was in need of drivers nearly three years ago.

Volunteers in the RSVP program logged more than 55,000 hours in the past 12 months and some participants have served as many as 46,000 hours over the course of many years.

“The program would not be what it is today if it was not for our volunteers,” Dalrymple said.