Giving of themselves, receiving recognition

Award: Peers say Volunteer of the Year nominees are a deserving lot.

October 02, 2002|By Kristin Sette | Kristin Sette,SUN STAFF

A few times each week, Siegfried Rowe makes his rounds at Howard County General Hospital, offering comfort to sick patients and advice to anxious family members.

The 79-year-old Columbia man has visited the sick, elderly and dying for nearly 30 years, and he said he'd never expect any recognition for it. In his family, volunteering was a way of life.

"My mother used to do it, my father used to do it," said Rowe, a hospital volunteer chaplaincy associate who also is a cantor at Columbia Jewish Congregation. "So I was just brought up that way."

But tonight, Rowe is being singled out, along with 34 other county residents, for exceptional community service. One of the nominees will win Howard County's Volunteer of the Year Award.

County officials expect to announce the winner's name at a 7:30 p.m. reception tonight in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building. The event is part of the nonprofit program "Maryland You Are Beautiful," which recognizes volunteers throughout the state.

Along with an individual Howard County award winner, officials are expected to honor a community group as well.

Those who completed the nomination forms say their peers deserve any sort of recognition that comes their way.

Hospital Chaplain Robert Van Ingen, who nominated Rowe, said that Rowe offers help not only to hospital patients and their families, but also to other laypeople who make hospital visits.

"I know that he's well-appreciated. I get thank-you [notes] ... " Van Ingen said of Rowe. "The medical staff has very little time to talk to [families]. The fact that he's been here for 30 years ... he has a lot of insight."

For Marilyn Miceli, assistant director of Howard County Special Olympics, choosing to nominate one person from her organization was so difficult that she opted not to do it; instead, she recommended six people for the award, along with the organization itself.

Miceli can rattle off different attributes for a mix of nominees. She said she chose Allan Waschak of Clarksville, the group's fund-raising chairman, because of his success with the aquatics program and Gena Luoma of Columbia, a bowling coach and art teacher at Cedar Lane School, for her artistic contributions.

Just a few years ago, Miceli said, Special Olympics officials became concerned when the aquatics program had swelled to the point that the group was running out of space at the Howard County YMCA pool. Officials wanted to see the program move to Howard Community College, only use of that space didn't come free.

"We were getting into a critical mass situation, and we were wondering what we were going to do," Miceli said. "[Waschak] has been instrumental in getting us our legacy sponsor. ... It enables us to pay rent. It's our seed money."

Last year, Miceli said, the organization raised $30,000, and she estimated the program now draws more than 300 athletes.

"It's grown so much that when I show up, nobody knows who I am because there's just so many people in the program," said Waschak, who began volunteering about eight years ago. "It's a great thing. It's an excellent thing. That means the program's grown so well it's very successful."

Miceli said she wanted to recognize Luoma for helping to organize a day last year at Cedar Lane School when handicapped students could participate in sports competitions, with bowling ramps and mobile basketball games.

"[Luoma] set up a committee, from the beginning of the year, and she planned this out," Miceli said. "It culminated into a Challenge Day, which was like a Special Olympics event."

Luoma, like Rowe, said she does not deserve any sort of recognition for the time she spends volunteering with Special Olympics athletes, one of whom is her 16-year-old daughter, Mia.

"I don't feel worthy. ... I have a special-needs daughter," she said. "I feel that I'd be involved in whatever she'd do."

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