'Mr. Volunteer' found a second life

April 14, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

Stacking one of his scrapbooks on top of another, Stanley Plaine pats the pile gently, and says, "This to me is a life."

The photo albums contain newspaper clippings, letters of appreciation and a variety of other mementos celebrating the Baltimore businessman's accomplishments.

Curiously, however, the contents date back only to 1981. Yet Mr. Plaine is 68.

The life he is proudest of, he explains, is the second one that began just 10 years ago. It is one of volunteerism. He is devoted to helping other retirees find fulfilling ways to spend their time.

"It's so simple. If you have a chance to make a difference in somebody's life, to just go ahead and do it," says Mr. Plaine, a Baltimore native forced by health reasons into retirement in 1981.

Some retirement. Since then, one-time shoe merchant Mr. Plaine became the principal force behind the Baltimore County Office of Aging's successful 9-year-old Senior Box Office program, which

offers trips and tickets to a variety of cultural and entertainment events.

He also helped start a local volunteer recruitment program called New Starts for Sixty Plus, and was instrumental in establishing the Volunteer Clearinghouse Program within the Associated Jewish Charities Placement and Guidance Services.

He is a past president of the Maryland Senior Citizen Hall of Fame and has served on the boards of the Maryland Gerontological Association, the Maryland Volunteer Network and the Baltimore County Commission on Aging. (The last organization was responsible for creating the countywide "Mr. Stanley Plaine Day" on April 26, 1985, in recognition of his efforts.)

Mr. Plaine helped start the 3-year-old Senior Prom program in Baltimore County (for senior citizens and teens), does volunteer work within the Chizuk Amuno synagogue and community organizations, and is also the behind-the-camera figure who helped persuade WJZ-Channel 13 to create a senior "beat" by hiring weekly correspondent Leona Morris.

But 10 years ago, concedes Mr. Plaine, he could not have conceived of doing any of these things. Almost dying awakened a different set of priorities.

As a young man, he recalls, Mr. Plaine abandoned plans to get his PhD degree (after service in the Navy) to take over his family's business, Jason Shoes. Over the years he made the company successful and derived a comfortable living. Yet he says, "I thoroughly despised the business."

In 1981, he nearly died from a combination of heart problems and the so-called Legionnaire's Disease, apparently contracted on a trip to Canada.

"Unfortunately, very often, it takes a trauma to change your life," says Mr. Plaine, noting that "the doctors told me I would never get out of bed."

He opens his scrapbook and withdraws a letter written to him during his recovery by his daughter, Sunny Schlenger, who recently has herself been in the local and national media eye with her recent book, "How to Get Organized In Spite of Yourself."

"Dad, you've been given a gift," she wrote. His daughter also gave him a diary in which to write his thoughts as he battled back from his ailments, and it is in these pages that his new goals began to take shape.

"I have turned from 'making a dollar' to doing for others and [getting] a consequent self-enrichment," reads one 1982 entry.

Mr. Plaine likes to note the literal meaning of the word "retire" is "to tire again," and says he didn't want to return to business just to be weary again. So he looked to something that was exhilarating, not tiring.

Upon recovery, Mr. Plaine visited the county's Office of Aging and basically offered his services, asking, "What would be your wish list?" if the office had unlimited manpower resources.

The office's Rob Wood responded that the agency had begun receiving donations of free tickets for seniors to local arts events, but had not organized the distribution very well. Could he help?

Mr. Plaine therefore created Senior Box Office and slowly built it up with as many as 50 volunteers and a regular newsletter publicizing opportunities. It now sponsors local and European trips, in addition to offering a wide variety of entertainment opportunities.

To talk to Mr. Plaine about volunteering, call 486-5870.

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