Laura Dean Bennett
The golden years of retirement turn out to be a lot healthier and way more fun if we volunteer even a small portion of our time to worthwhile causes.
In 2017, the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed more than 7,000 Americans over the age of 50 to determine how volunteering affects people’s lives.
It discovered that volunteers undertook more preventative health screen- ings, spent 39 percent less time in hospitals and had lower rates of depression, fewer physical limitations and lower levels of stress.
A study at Indiana University indicated that volunteers make better decisions about their health.
They suffer less stress, have lower cholesterol, fewer weight problems and have more stamina and flexibility than counterparts in their same age groups.
If your New Year’s resolution about getting healthier this year is fading fast, you may want to look beyond the gym.
You may need to get involved in some volunteer work.
Alvan and Debbie Gale
This is a couple who believes in jumping into volunteering with all four feet.
Alvan and Debbie moved from Charleston to Pocahontas County in 2010.
They could have moved anywhere, but they chose Marlinton for a very specific reason.
“As we turned 50, we started thinking about our “bucket list” and decided to retire here because my husband is a fly fisherman,” Debbie said.
“Anyone who knows about fly fishing in West Virginia knows that a true fly fisherman wants to live in the town of Marlinton because it is centrally located among some of the best fishing streams in West Virginia.”
Debbie worked for 34 years as a hospital pharmacist in Logan County and in Charleston. And after they moved here, she worked as a pharmacist at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.
Before she retired, Debbie volunteered her time to travel to Nicaragua and Guatemala on medical missionary trips, working with doctors, dentists and plastic and reconstructive surgical teams, mostly providing injectable medications for the operating room personnel.
Alvan was assistant superintendent at Chief Logan State Park and superintendent of Kanawha State Forest.
He, too, started volunteering while he was still working.
“I enjoyed working with a lot of volunteers at the parks,” Alvan said. “And then I became the pack leader for our sons’ cub scout pack.
“When they went into Boy Scouts, I continued helping their troop, but in an unofficial way. Then I started volunteering with Trout Un- limited, doing stocking and monitoring. I became a member of the board for the Ernie Nestor Chapter – and I still do some work for Trout Unlimited.
“I was asked to join the advisory committee for the Pocahontas County Water Resources Task Force, and I still do that, too.
“I think it’s important to stay active and involved in things that have meaning for you.”
Another thing on Debbie’s bucket list was hosting an international exchange student.
“I wanted to help – to give a young person this opportunity,” Debbie said.
When they were told last year that there two students looking for host families, they decided to take both of them into their home for a year, which is how Jose Gomez, from Mexico, and Vinicious Martins, from Brazil, came to be part of the Gale family.
The boys settled into life at Pocahontas County High School and have become part of the church family at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Marlinton.
In addition to learning English, Jose and Vini, who had never seen snow before, have really enjoyed learning to ski at Snowshoe this winter.
And because of their interest in skiing, Alvan is skiing again, after years of being off the slopes.
Not to be outdone, although she doesn’t ski, Debbie took up snowshoeing this winter and says she loves it!
And Team Gale Family will be entering the Greenbrier River Race together.
“Jose and Vini are really part of our family now,” Debbie said. “The exchange program has been life changing for all of us. I think we’re getting as much out of it as the boys are.”
The Gomez family visited here over Christmas and Alvan and Debbie are planning a trip to visit the Martins family in Brazil, perhaps later this year.
Well, their bucket list did include more travel, so a trip to South America would seem appropriate.
Reflecting on her transition from work to retirement, Debbie said, at first, she felt guilty about having free time.
Her first foray into volunteerism here in Pocahontas County began when she joined the Marlinton Woman’s Club because, as she said, “I needed something to do.
“I had seen these women, working hard making kettle corn at the local festivals and I was impressed.
“What I found was not tea and cookies, but some fiercely loyal, hardworking ladies who pop the best kettle corn around.”
And she acquired a network of good friends.
The Marlinton Woman’s Club raises money so that it can help to support many worthwhile causes and activities.
Over the years, it has contributed in countless ways to our community.
“Joining the Woman’s Club is really how I began to find my life here in Marlinton, she said. “I’d say that we are never better than when we are giving back.
“Hosting the exchange students has really opened up our world to some amazing possibilities. Alvan and I are living the retirement dream. It’s like we’re on a jumbo jet, flying at a different altitude now.”
Larry and Phyliss Lucas
I caught up with Larry and Phyliss Lucas at the Pocahontas County Opera House, where, when there is a performance, one can usually find them, greeting arriving patrons, selling tickets and kibbutzing with one and all.
The couple retired here from the Huntington area and were quickly involved in the civic life of the community.
They’ve been helping out at the front desk of the Opera House for more than 10 years.
Larry and Phyliss have made a lifestyle of donating their time and hard work to good causes throughout the county.
Larry is, as he indicates by holding his hand up over his head, “up to here” with the Marlinton Lions Club.
Most people around here know the Marlinton Lions for their famous barbecue sandwiches, which they sell to raise money for their many worthwhile projects.
The Lions conduct free eye screenings for pre-K through eighth grade students and for adults at the hospital during the health fair, and they provide glasses for seniors and those who can’t afford the cost of new glasses. The club collects eye glasses to be repurposed for third world countries and they support the bloodmobile each year.
Larry is famous for his expertise in and love of gardening – he is one of our community’s Master Gardeners.
That may have been what led him to be instrumental in helping to organize the Farmers Market.
Phyliss Lucas is also a very active member of the Marlinton Woman’s Club and the Purple Pansy Red Hats and she’s treasurer of the Minnehaha CEOS club.
CEOS stands for Community Educational Outreach Service.
The clubs were formerly known as Homemakers Clubs and they are sponsored by the West Virginia Extension Service.
Phyliss is also the president of the CEOS County Council, representing Pocahontas County CEOS clubs at the regional and state level.
Larry and Phyliss have donated countless hours to their community because they love it here and are always looking for ways they can help make things better.
“Sometimes I think maybe Phyliss and I are volunteering to a fault,” laughs Larry.
But all kidding aside, Phyliss and Larry take their volunteer work very seriously.
“I’ve always enjoyed being involved in the community,” Phyliss said. “It’s just what I’ve always thought is the right thing to do.”
There are two Lions Clubs in Pocahontas County – besides the Marlinton club, there’s the Durbin Lions Club, which is also dedicated to raising money for worthwhile causes and doing good work in the community.
The Durbin Lions do eye screenings at Green Bank Elementary and Middle School, provide funding for eye exams and glasses for those unable to afford the cost and in December, they host a turkey dinner for the community.
Their biggest fundraisers are selling pork rinds at Durbin Days and the pancake dinner at the Arbovale Community Center.
Jean Srodes and her husband, Joel, moved to their vacation home in Marlinton eight years ago when Joel retired.
Joel doesn’t stay full-time in Marlinton – he goes to their home in San Marcos, Guatemala, to write books – but Jean had begun working with students in several after-school programs, knew she was needed, and decided to stay.
She visits Joel at their San Marcos home and does volunteer work with him there several times a year.
“When I am in Guatemala, I volunteer at a non profit called Konojel at an after-school program for Mayan children,” Jean said.
Jean retired from Continental Airlines after 16 years as a flight attendant doing international flights to Europe.
Now she works with the Pocahontas County Board of Education and the Department of Rehabilitative Services as a VISTA under the auspices of the Family Resource Network.
Jean’s always been civic minded and a dyed-in-the-wool volunteer.
Srodes has received funding from the Family Resource Network and its Innovation Grant to start and maintain her many after-school clubs for students as well as to partner in other student activities.
Her interests are varied, and the young people benefit from her broad range of interests. As a result they have had opportunities to participate in horse back riding, Equine Therapy, a Quilting Club with Deb Ann Walker of DebAnn Fabrics, the Ukulele Club, founded by Claire Wayne of High Rocks – Srodes has provided seven ukuleles and music stands for the Wellness Center – a Cooking Club with Tracey Valach, a Golf Club at Marlinton Middle School, a Radio Club with WVMR, and Support Ceramics with Cynthia Gurreri at the Wellness Center.
To date, Srodes has applied for and received, all told, $16,585 in grant monies which go toward giving the young people of Pocahontas County a healthier and happier start in life.
Besides the obvious benefits Srodes’ after-school programs have brought to the community and the students, she says they are good for her, too.
“This is where I was supposed to be, and this is the most important thing I have ever done,” Jean said.
“It just took me a while to find my niche.
“Part of what I do is really my VISTA work, but it blends into my volunteer work. I find time to do both. But, in my mind it’s all enjoyment.
“I get up every morning thinking of new ideas for things that I can expose the youngsters to.
“I have never felt as good as I do spending time with children. The children here deserve the same opportunities as others around the country.
“They should have a chance to experience the wonderful recreational activities that bring tourists to Pocahontas County. And you never know what will click and become a lifelong enjoyment for a child.”
Although he would never say this about himself, Roger Trusler is one of those unassuming “pillars of the community” types who really are instrumental in keeping the town and the whole county going.
Originally from Buchannon, and a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan, Roger is a particularly well- educated man.
He earned two master’s degrees, one in counseling and guidance from West Virginia University and one in school administration from Marshall University.
Before, during and after his 35 year career as an administrative assistant for Pocahontas County Schools, Roger has worked tirelessly for the betterment of his town and his county.
Roger’s list of organizations in which he is involved is impressive.
He is a member of the Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation Board, Pocahontas County Family Resource Network Board, Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce Board, Marlinton Planning Commission, Marlinton Vacant Lot Committee and a 44-year member of the Marlinton Rotary Club.
In 1979, he was the founding member of the Parks and Recreation Board of Directors and still sits on its board.
“We formed the Parks and Recreation Board to help the Board of Education and the schools,” he said.
In the early 80s when more than 400 kids in Pocahontas County were playing in the soccer league, they needed a place to have matches.
Roger and the Parks and Rec board got together with several civic-minded citizens who donated the land and the labor to create Stillwell Park.
“It was a real rabbit thicket when we started down there,” Roger said. “We had a ‘park raising’ and everybody pitched in. That was Park and Rec’s first project.
“Then we developed Whitney Park in Frank and the tennis courts and basketball courts at the Green Bank and Hillsboro schools.”
Although Roger officially retired years ago, he’s never wanted to retire from public service.
To a great extent, we have Roger to thank for the fact that we have the Wellness Center.
He saw a need and gathered like-minded citizens to help and spearhead the Wellness Center project.
“That one was a real challenge – it took eight years,” Roger said smiling as he remembers the patience and hard work it took to see the nearly $3 million dollar project from, what many said was an unrealistic pipe dream, to fruition.
“I really enjoy the work. When a person retires, he or she needs projects to keep the body, mind and spirit active and in good shape.”
And volunteering and doing good things for your community is also part of his life strategy.
“These kind of civic projects provide the opportunity for goal-setting, optimism and the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment,” Roger said.
“I guess I just can’t stop being a teacher, and I love to learn,” said Mary Dawson, who retired from teaching in the Virginia public school system when she moved to Pocahontas County in 1999.
She’s an active member of the Pocahontas Nature Club, Hillsboro Library Friends and the Watoga State Park Foundation.
Mary helped to organize and has served on the planning committee for the Wild Edibles Festival.
The spring event seems to grow in popularity every year, and will, again, be held at Watoga State Park.
“It was great fun,” Mary said. “I met and worked with wonderful people.
“Volunteering allows me to continue teaching and learning, without having to be at work at 8 o’clock!”
Mary goes on to say that for having such a sparse population, Pocahontas County offers a lot of free programs and volunteer opportunities.
“I’m amazed at the volunteer opportunities this county offers, there seems to be something for everyone,” she said.
For instance, Mary knows three retirees who are having fun being DJs on the local radio station.
And, as a retired teacher, Mary is partial to libraries.
“We have libraries from one end of the county to the other,” she said.
Mary sums up her personal philosophy of volunteerism by saying: “For me, having a purpose is the biggest key to contentment.
“And if that purpose involves other people and their well-being, it’s even more rewarding.”
Clearly, opportunities for meaningful volunteering are all around you.
And volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life to be beneficial.
In fact, research shows that just two to three hours per week, or about 100 hours a year, offers significant benefits – to both you and your chosen cause.
The important thing is to volunteer the right amount of time to the type of work that is right for you.