Have you ever thought what our town would be like without volunteers? There is not a single event or not for profit agency that could exist without volunteers. Government, hospitals, school boards and church vestries need volunteers. Many essential services like fire and ambulance departments need volunteers.
Every week our newspapers are filled with stories about the accomplishments of volunteers be it in the form of a back country rescue, the creation of an animal shelter, the organization of a ski race, or picking up trash along the highways at the beginning of May. There are the mega events ranging from the Olympics to Ironman to the Horse Show to Rugby, Lacrosse and Hockey tournaments to I Love NY BBQ to the emerging Whiteface-Wilmington Bikefest.
Can you think of anyone who does not volunteer their time and treasure to assist a worthy cause, or think of anyone who volunteers for just one cause. Many people serve on multiple boards, volunteer at events throughout the year, and wake up thinking about how they can improve this or that.
Keela Rogers getting her award
On Saturday afternoon five superlative volunteers were recognized and one was named volunteer of the year at a ceremony held at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, yet another facility that could not operate without its hundreds of volunteers. Each of the five have contributed more hours volunteering than almost anything else they do, and they all do and have done a lot.
"I have been volunteering for ORDA since I moved here in 2001," said Bob Janowski, one of the five nominees. "I used to be a volunteer driver for them, presently I volunteer at the timing booth at the track, am a starter for the freestyle and aerialists, I am the town Santa, and I help clean up the bottom of Mirror Lake before Ironman. I love volunteering and I am in a position where I can do a lot as I have the time to give. I get a lot of joy out of helping people, watching them smile."
"It's payback for all those who helped me and it's the pay it forward concept, I get back three times what I put in," said nominee Joe Lamb. "I volunteer because it is the right thing to do and I do it without any expectations. My benefit is satisfaction. Why do I volunteer, maybe it is because of the two people I had for parents and because she (his mother Winnie sitting next to him) cracked the whip."
"So, Joe claims you are his inspiration, why did you volunteer?" I said to Winnie.
"I did it for the young people, I wanted to plant in their brain that there always was something better to do than get into trouble," said Winnie. "They needed to ski, to be outdoors, to climb mountains, to be at the Arena. I also volunteered to because we wanted to bring the Olympics back here and I always took my children with me. I used volunteering to educate them."
"I volunteer for the total feeling of accomplishment," said nominee Pamalee Tolkan, who has been a dedicated volunteer for the Art Center as well as Uihlein Mercy Center, Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society and the Film Forum, among others. "I really enjoy volunteering, I enjoy working with the staff, and I get to express my own artistic abilities."
"My attitude is if Parm is happy doing what she is doing, I am happy, so I am completely happy with her volunteering," said Jim Tolkan.
"I just like to do stuff for other people," said nominee Keela Rogers, another who has volunteered with more agencies than one can count. "It also beats house work all the hell. I have volunteered on a state, county and local level, and the local level is best. I love volunteering whether it is cooking for someone or working the bobrun."
"Volunteering is the right thing to do, that's it," said former volunteer award-winner Dennis Ryan.
"I enjoy all the volunteering I have ever done," said Connie Devlin, sitting next to Connie Bonsignore, another local legend in the volunteer department. "When I think of Connie, when I was at school she volunteered for everything."
"I remember one time at Whiteface at a ski race," said Connie Bon. "I want you to get this right because it was true. I was at the bottom of the course and had one of the stopwatches. Red LaFountain was coming right at me. I tried to jump out of the way. He was out of control. I jumped, he swerved and the next thing I knew his arms were wrapped around me and he took me out. We shot down the hill together."
"Those of us who volunteer do it because it is fun," said Connie Devlin. "How else could you have an experience like that?"
"I have been working with community leaders for a long, long time," said Town Supervisor Roby Politi. "There are many who want things to be better, many who expect things to be better, but only a few who make things better. These nominees are among the very few who make things better. They deserve our applause."
"You are all heroes in my mind, you all make Lake Placid special," said mayor Craig Randall.
"Volunteers are the core of everything we have going on here," said ORDA CEO Ted Blazer. In terms of ORDA we could not contemplate the things we do without them. They make us who we are."
"So Megan, how does it feel to be the Volunteer Youth of the Year?" I asked Megan Borland who put in over 400 volunteer hours this year.
"I am absolutely honored," said Megan. "I never did it for the recognition. It is wonderful that people noticed how much I care about volunteering. I just wanted to help others."
The adult winner was Keela Rogers, recognized for her more than 50 years of service, and for her great leadership as president of the 1932-1980 Winter Olympic Museum. Truly though, they all were winners, five people who collectively annually give thousands of hours of service to the community of Lake Placid/North Elba that they all love so well.