Volunteers make the difference

The fair and rodeo season is underway in Central Alberta. Everyone enjoys taking in the festivities. But they don’t ‘just happen’. They take a lot of organizing and participating. It’s the volunteer spirit behind these events that always inspires me.

The fair and rodeo season is underway in Central Alberta. Everyone enjoys taking in the festivities. But they don’t ‘just happen’. They take a lot of organizing and participating. It’s the volunteer spirit behind these events that always inspires me.

It seems like much of my ‘in the field’ time over the past month has been involved in either attending or being in on the ground floor of planning some of these summer happenings. Folks come for the fun, but don’t always realize it’s taken a lot of behind the scene effort to create that opportunity for visitors. While the big push is just before things take place, there’s a lot of time put in throughout the year too.

When organizing committees work effectively, it’s like watching a well-oiled engine humming along. Everyone has their role and tasks, and often the members very familiar with the work because they’ve been doing it for so long. The ongoing dedication to a successful community happening keeps many coming back, year after year.

When I think of volunteers, I see faces. While attending the Rocky Rodeo, I got visiting with the friendly folks at the contestant’s gate. I’d seen Walter Atchison over the years, but he was so excited to tell me the wonderful year it had been for him on the volunteering front. Along with his annual stint at the Rodeo, he also volunteers for the Airshow, and has been a big contributor of volunteer time to the Central Alberta Antique and Model Club. At the Rocky Mountain House Museum alone, he put in 237 hours of his time! Atchison was one of six Albertans honored provincially in 2014 for the outstanding work they do in their communities, by Direct Energy and the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association. The award included a $1000 cheque to a charity of choice, and Atchison chose the Museum.

A volunteer’s work is never done, and while we chatted, Atchison was sure to promote upcoming events in Rocky, telling me how we needed to get the word out, and come out to take them in!

Also at Rocky, the chairman of the Rocky Ag and Stampede Association, Ernie Closs, was presented with a buckle. It’s his 29th year of working with the rodeo, and he was honored as Committee Person of the Year by the group. He was thrilled to have a year with no rain on their event, and energized by some changes made to parking and set up, which worked smoothly.

I also enjoy talking with Bruce Roy of Cremona. He’s the longest serving volunteer at the Calgary Stampede, and plans to be at the microphone of the Heavy Horse show for the 56th year in July. His background in writing for horse magazines and helping at auction sales, plus his passion for heavy horses, especially Percherons, keeps him ever young. He’s such a wealth of information on the gentle giants and he shares it all during the show, helping to educate as well as entertain the audience.

At our own Red Deer Westerner, I wish I had as much energy as our ‘Golden Girls’.

I call May Johnson and Yvonne Roberts ‘golden’ because they are truly gold star volunteers. They attend meetings in all kinds of weather, and don’t let any bumps and bruises or health problems get in the way of their serving the organization. They’ll pitch in for whatever is asked, and that can be everything from providing a valuable voice of experience, or stuffing volunteer packages. They’re always willing, and such an inspiration to have around.

Those are just a few of the countless volunteer faces, and stories, in our region. But as the group who has counted volunteering as a ‘privilege’ gets on in years, will there be younger people moving in to take their place? Will they come in time to learn from these experienced folks, who could be mentors to those serving after them?

I guess that’s where I found the weekend Daines Ranch Rodeo so encouraging. It was great to see the next generation ‘Daines cousins’ pitching in and carrying on the torch Jack Daines lit in the family for hosting a pro rodeo on the ranch.

When it comes to ‘payback’ for volunteering, the two words seem at odds. And those who make time to be involved will tell you at times, it can be thankless, patience-testing, back-breaking, weather-challenging work. But they wouldn’t trade places, because of the people they’ve met, and the friends they’ve made while volunteering.

There’s something special about stepping out of our safe ‘me’ busy bubbles, to work together for a common cause or to benefit others. Making a contribution to community is always worth it.

So when you’re out at a volunteer-served, community organized event this summer, take a moment, smile and thank the person you’re dealing with. As a volunteer, they’re giving you the gift of their time. Be grateful, and consider doing the same yourself.

Dianne Finstad is a veteran broadcaster and reporter who has covered agricultural news in Central Alberta for more than 30 years. From the Field appears monthly in the Advocate.