Top volunteer perceived a need

Prepare for `opportunity,' says retired mathematician

October 07, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

In true Boy Scout fashion, Joseph Kochenderfer came prepared to the 21st annual Harford's Most Beautiful People event, which honors voluntarism.

When the big moment arrived and Kochenderfer was named the county's top volunteer from among 50 nominees, he had his thank-yous written. After accepting the etched crystal plaque, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his notes.

"I always told my Scouts, `Be prepared,'" he said to the crowd of about 500 attending the ceremony Thursday at Bel Air Church of the Nazarene. "You never know when opportunity will be offered."

Voluntarism is nothing more than "perceiving a need and making things better," said Kochenderfer, 73, a retired mathematician who is a Havre de Grace city councilman.

"If we depend on hiring people for all these jobs, there would be no way to afford it," he said, urging others to get involved. "You will get satisfaction, and that will keep you interested."

Among his accomplishments are many community projects in the city that he has called home for nearly 50 years. In nominating Kochenderfer, Rebecca Fitzgerald, director of the Susquehanna Museum of Havre de Grace, called him a true steward of the environment.

Between mentoring Boy Scouts and coaching in recreational sports leagues, he has served 20 years on the city Planning Commission and has had several terms on the City Council.

He also found time to turn a forgotten wooded area into a popular walking path, now known as the Joe K. Loop Trail, and nearly every day oversees its maintenance. He organized Riversweep, an annual community cleanup of the city shoreline along the Susquehanna. For the past five years, Kochenderfer volunteered daily at the museum, guiding as many as 1,800 children on tours last year alone, Fitzgerald said.

"Many organizations measure volunteer time in hours," Fitzgerald wrote in her nomination. "It is impossible to quantify Joe's volunteerism in units less than years."

Harford had twice the number of nominees this year than last, and none are repeats.

County Executive David R. Craig thanked all the nominees "on behalf of the thousands who benefit. The real winners are those you serve," he said.

While excerpts detailing his or her service to the community were read aloud, each nominee walked across the stage, shook hands with officials and received a certificate. Voluntarism crossed all aspects of life, from Jane Armstrong, who takes her golden retriever to elementary school and helps students to read, to Sandra Woodring, who counsels breast cancer patients and their families and raises money for research by running in charity races.

They ranged in age from James Greene, 15, who has given more than 400 hours to the Jarrettsville library, to numerous octogenarians. They help keep their neighbors healthy and fit, visit nursing homes and hospitals, and build homes for the needy.

"Volunteers are the fabric of neighboring that keeps us all together," said Keith J. Hart of the Governor's Office on Services and Volunteerism.

An estimated 1.2 million Marylanders volunteer as much as 167 million hours each year, he said.

"That's an estimated $3 billion in added value," Hart said.

A committee reviewed the nominations and used a point system to choose the top five, each of whom received $500 to donate to the charity of his or her choice.

Joining Kochenderfer and Armstrong in the top five were Shirley Dunsen, whose help for homeless extends to soup kitchens, clothing drives and transportation to shelters; Sandra Gallion, who annually gives more than 1,000 hours to the Level Volunteer Fire Company; and Robert Lepito, who counsels and teaches at his church, leads Boy Scouts and has donated more than 182 pints of blood to the Red Cross in the past 33 years.

"Each of us has a gift to share, and that is evidenced in all the stories we have heard here tonight," said Mary F. Chance, director of the county Department of Community Services.

Kochenderfer will represent Harford next spring at the statewide volunteer appreciation event.

In accepting the accolades and the award, Kochenderfer ended the evening on a laugh.

"It is much nicer here than as part of a memorial service," he said.

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