One of the luncheon guests used to work in the White House. One taught African American children in a segregated school. One had been a fighter pilot. One grew up on a cotton farm.
Although the 15 people who gathered for lunch in Broadlands on Aug. 25 had diverse life stories, they also had a few things in common. All had volunteered their services to help others in the past year, and all were at least 90 years old.
The Loudoun Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services hosted the luncheon to honor the eldest participants in the county’s senior volunteer program, and to raise awareness of how older people benefit from volunteering.
“Research does show that volunteering really does help you physically, mentally, emotionally, even if you volunteer one or two hours,” said Debra Bressler of the Volunteer Program for Aging Services. “Doing good is good for you and helps with your longevity.”
In a brief presentation to the luncheon guests, Bressler noted that the group of volunteers included a detective, a former mathematician for NASA and two retired Air Force generals. Several were from New York; others were raised on cotton and peanut farms, she said.
Bressler also zeroed in on what they had in common.
“Every single one of you has a positive attitude,” Bressler said. “No matter what has happened in your life . . . you have that positive attitude which fills the room with love and laughter. And you love sharing that, and giving that back to helping others.”
Those positive attitudes — along with a sense of humility — were evident in interviews with several of the senior volunteers and on questionnaires they had completed before the event. All had similar answers to the question of why they liked to volunteer — the need to have a purpose in life, and the desire to help others.
“What else is there to do?” said Josephine Lacsamana, 94, of Stone Ridge. “When you’re getting older, you have to do something.”
A native of the Philippines, Lacsamana was a bookkeeper for several restaurants in New York. Now, she puts her proficiency with numbers to use at the Dulles South Senior Center, where she says she does “whatever needs to be done.” One of her responsibilities is tallying up the service hours logged by the center’s volunteers.
“I have something to look forward to every day,” she said.
Geraline Johnson, 93, of Purcellville remembers taking vegetables to market in a horse-drawn buggy as a child. She taught elementary school for 39 years, including at the segregated Douglass Elementary School in Leesburg. After the Loudoun County public schools were integrated, she taught at Lincoln Elementary.
Johnson said she has been volunteering continuously since her 1985 retirement, first at what is now Inova Loudoun Hospital, and, more recently, at the Carver Senior Center, where she staffs the front desk, answers the telephone and runs errands. “I have been volunteering so long, it seems like a second job,” she said.
Don Hughes, at 95 the oldest member of the group, said that “meeting the people” was his favorite part about delivering meals through the Meals on Wheels program.
“I get to know them,” he said. “Pretty soon, you’re talking to a friend.”
Volunteering gives Hughes a chance to use the people skills he honed in the Air Force, where he was a three-star general. A career highlight was his assignment as military assistant to Richard M. Nixon when he was vice president. He returned to the White House when Nixon was elected president.
“Those were great years,” he said of his White House duty.
Hughes said that he had decided to retire from volunteering “when I hit 95” but that he would continue to fill in if needed.
Almeda Johnson, 91, of Leesburg, who gets around in a wheelchair, also recently decided to give up her volunteer responsibilities. After working as a nurse’s assistant “practically all my life,” she had volunteered at her senior residential facility, making sure everyone got their meals.
“If I was able now, I’d still be doing it,” she said. “My eyesight is not what it could be, and I couldn’t see to do the paperwork.” But she indicated that she is not ready to give up volunteering altogether.
“I can’t sit down and do nothing,” she said. “As long as there’s breath in my body, I feel like I’ve got to be doing something.”