Donelda McWilliams of Defiance will be presented with AARP’s most prestigious volunteer honor. Her dedication and generous efforts will be recognized with the 2013 AARP Ohio Andrus Award for Community Service during a celebration taking place at Defiance College on Saturday, October 5.
She was nominated for the award by Billie Johnson, director of the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, who notes that because Donelda deeply believes that “helping others is the right thing to do” she has improved the community and enhanced the lives of older Ohioans through her intellectual leadership, outspoken advocacy and hands-on hard work.
“Donelda’s persistence and ability to effectively articulate complex topics and issues to public officials, stakeholder organizations and older Ohioans is both unusual and inspiring,” Ms. Johnson wrote. “Donelda was volunteering before volunteering was cool! Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if there were more people like Donelda McWilliams?”
Donelda is the embodiment or AARP making things better for society and an inspiration to fellow AARP Ohio volunteers, who chose her from among 17 people nominated for this year’s honor. Michael Barnhart of Centerville, who volunteers as state president for AARP Ohio, explains why Donelda stands out among talented and dedicated volunteers.
“Donelda encourages me because she is always open to learning new things and taking on new challenges,” he said. “She is such an exemplar of what we would hope all our volunteers would be. Donelda has a spirit about her that is open and welcoming and just hopeful.”
An AARP Ohio advocacy volunteer since 1987, Donelda is advocacy team leader for Ohio Congressional District 5 and leads the Northwestern Region team working on the AARP You’ve Earned a Say initiative and fulfills requests from other groups who have asked for speakers who can answer questions about the new health law, the Affordable Care Act.
Donelda also volunteers with the Defiance County Senior Center, where each month she helps distribute the 200 commodity boxes that some local seniors have told her is the only food they have by the end of the month. In addition she serves on the center’s auxiliary, which Donelda says is a 501-c-3 set up solely to raise money to buy needed goods and equipment that there is no other way to purchase. Her biggest auxiliary project of the year is the summer ice cream social for which she helps produce 40 gallons of homemade ice cream.
“I enjoy helping people who need help – I take satisfaction in helping – I’m so grateful to be able to help,” she says. “I do these things because I want to. I’m sure it all goes back to my mom never turning anyone away without a meal during the Great Depression. Not that we had all that much, but she never turned a hungry hobo away.”
Donelda returned to her hometown of Defiance, where her sisters still resided, after she retired in 1985. She had reared five children in Rogers City on Lake Huron in Michigan, where she operated the funeral home after her husband was killed in a car crash in 1970.
“Three years before he died he told me that our best insurance was for me to go to mortuary school and get a certificate, so I did,” she said. “I was able to run the funeral home while I raised five kids, and put them through college.”
When she joined AARP citizen lobbyists at the Ohio Statehouse, she served on what was then called the State Legislative Committee. From there she was appointed as Midwest representative to the National Legislative Council (now the National Policy Council) for four years. For 15 years – spanning the terms of four agency directors – Donelda represented AARP on the Advisory Board for the Ohio Department of Aging. She also has served 15 years, and continues to serve, on the Advisory Board for the Northwest Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
In nominating her, Ms. Johnson noted, “While Donelda frequently talks to others about her AARP volunteer work and encourages them to volunteer, it is her serving as a shining example of an AARP volunteer that most impacts other volunteers and inspires others to volunteer.”