Gray Matters: Senior Volunteer Program honors local

By Carol Harrison April 19, 2012 12:00 am

Geraldine Safford at the thrift shop. Submitted
Geraldine Safford at the thrift shop. Submitted
Editor's note: The Area 1 Agency on Aging commissions freelance writer Carol Harrison to produce Gray Matters every two weeks.

Geraldine Safford and Shirley Fullmer have more in common than their 80-plus years. So do Margaret Jonas and Eleanor Sullivan.

At an age when many folks are slowing down, the quartet keeps showing up. Eureka’s Fullmer and Crescent City’s Safford were among the honorees pinned last month for 25 and 20 years of service, respectively, to their communities as part of the Volunteer Center of the Redwoods and RSVP.

“I’d lost track,” the 87-year-old Fullmer said. “It’s been rewarding and it’s been my pleasure.”

Jonas and Sullivan are closing in on their 20-year pins as part of the nation’s largest volunteer work force. RSVP counts 500,000 members age 55 and older — 789 of them on the North Coast.

“Last year, our volunteers contributed about 100,000 hours worth more than $1.5 million to the 200 plus organizations looking for help,” said Todd Metcalf, Director of Programs at Area 1 Agency on Aging.  “All of our volunteers deserve to be thanked.”

But the service pins are reserved for those who have been counted on year after year for two decades or more in RSVP.

“Those recipients show us what it means to be vibrant, active and unselfish older Americans,” Metcalf said.

The St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Shop in Crescent City, named Del Norte County’s top thrift shop in the Del Norte Triplicate Reader’s Choice section, counts 11 volunteers and six paid employees on its staff list. The volunteers give 300 hours per month selling discounted clothes and merchandise, the proceeds of which help fund a food distribution program for those in need.

“Without our volunteers, we probably wouldn’t be functional,” store manager Alice Oscar said. “They clean the clothes, dry them, put out everything in the store, tag them and run the cash register.”

The 84-year-old Stafford started volunteering with the store two weeks after it opened in 1979. She’d been asked by one of the women in charge if she would volunteer one day a week, even for two hours.

“My kids were raised and they were short-handed, so I said sure,” Safford said. “I worked about five hours that first day. They were still short-handed so I put in a second day of five hours.”

Cashier duty is a thing of the past, but the schedule of two days per week is not. For 3.5 hours a day, she sits, with her cane nearby, sorting and hanging clothes.

“Can’t stay on my feet that long anymore,” the mother of four – and grandmother of four –  said. “I’ll do it as long as I can.  It’s important to keep going because we are helping people.”

Like Safford, Jonas’ volunteer work pre-dates the arrival of RSVP on the North Coast.

“I have the time and I don’t crochet, sew or quilt,” said Jonas, who moved from San Francisco and into Eureka’s Silvercrest Apartments when they opened in 1981. She turns 87 this month. “I have to spend time doing something.”

One day a week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Jonas staffs the front desk at the Humboldt County Chapter of American Red Cross. As a past member of her Bay Area church’s disaster response team, it was a natural fit to help Red Cross by answering phones, making referrals, receipting and copying.

She also remains active with a Christian women’s group headquartered in Vallejo and committed to helping parents of all ages with what she calls “children, in-laws or outlaws.”

 “I want to do something that uplifts those with problems I don’t have,” she said. “And it’s nice to be around the young people in AmeriCorps with all their new ideas and what have you.”

The 82-year-old Sullivan is surrounded by young people as the founder and president of McKinleyville High School’s Grandparents Club.

“They won’t let me get out – until I kick the bucket,” she said.

A grandmother to 10 and great grandmother to 13, Sullivan was walking the Mack High track one day when the idea hit.

“I just love kids,” she said. “I figured there’s probably something the old folks can do around here.”

The club of 25 members does a dessert bar at Homecoming, puts out the school newsletter, installed the flagpole on the football field, made curtains for the Drama Club, and gives five scholarships a year at $500 a pop.

Any attendee at a Mack High basketball or football game the last 15 years knows her as the keeper of the gate and the cashier at the ticket desk. Her great-granddaughter, Tara Rowland, played for the Panther hoops team last season.

Sullivan used to be the director of the McKinleyville Senior Center and still helps with the 25-cent table for books and whatnot. She also files, orders and sets up displays as a 12-hour-a-week employee for Lima’s Pharmacy. Her Mack High efforts require six to 16 hours per week depending on the season.

“I’m kind of thinking I’ll quit my job at Lima’s at 85, but if I feel as good as I do now, I might continue,” she said.  “McKinleyville is a wonderful community, but I tell people you need to help make it great. Once people get started volunteering, they’ll love it.”

“You get out and see people, do things, and still have time for yourself,” Fullmer said. “There are so many needs to fill.”

After retiring from Eureka City Schools in 1984, Fullmer volunteered as a clerical assistant for RSVP and the American Heart Association and a docent at Clarke Historical Museum. She also sandwiched stints with Evergreen Lodge and two nursing homes in between caregiving for two in-laws, her mother and her husband.

Metcalf was the master of ceremonies for the March 22 luncheons that drew 100 people to the Elks Club in Eureka and 60 to the Del Norte Senior Center in Crescent City. Safford was the lone honoree in Del Norte.

Juliette Camilli, Virginia Reddard, June Knott, Katie Rhoades and Ethel Seaman received 20-year pins in Eureka.

“Volunteering gives everyone a chance to share skills and experience, give back to their communities, and stay connected,” Metcalf said. “Everyone has something to offer. Get involved on a regular basis or give it a try as part of National Volunteer Week April 15–21.”

For more information about VCOR & RSVP, drop by 1765 Northcrest Drive in Crescent City, call (707) 464-7876, fax 464-7877, or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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