AARP Montana Seeks Nominees for its Most Prestigious Volunteer Award – the ‘Andrus Award for Community Service’

 AARP’s commitment to volunteer service can be traced back to the life and vision of its founder – Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus

AARP MT VolunteersAARP Montana is seeking nominations for its 2014 Andrus Award for Community Service, which honors Montanans who volunteer their experience, talent and skills to enrich the lives of others.  Although AARP membership is not a requirement, nominees must be 50 or older and their accomplishments or service must have been performed on a volunteer basis and reflect AARP’s commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all as we age.

The 2014 Montana Andrus award recognizes inspiring individuals who are making a positive difference in the lives of others, improving their community and encouraging others to volunteer. Only one Montana individual or couple is selected each year. The nomination deadline is Sunday, June 1. For more information  visit

Montanans are known for their service to their communities.  According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Montana ranks eighteenth in the nation for volunteerism – nearly 30% of Montanans volunteer their time each year.  With an average of 43.7 volunteer hours per resident, Montana ranks high for hours donated, and the total estimated value of those millions of hours of service across Montana is $768.6 million per year.

The Andrus Award is AARP’s highest honor, given to an individual who embodies the principles of AARP’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus.  While her name does not carry the instant recognition that the organization she founded does, Dr. Andrus believed in the power of ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

The Award and Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus – A Uniquely American Story

Ethel Percy Andrus was born in San Francisco in 1884.  While still a child, Ethel and her family moved to Chicago.  She earned a college degree from the University of Chicago and then began teaching.  Ethel also conducted night classes at the Chicago Commons and Hull House – two pioneering settlement houses. In those days, settlement houses assisted immigrants in gaining language and other skills they needed to become productive workers and citizens.

Returning to California with her family, Ethel continued teaching and she became California’s first female high school principal in 1916 at the age of 32.  She later advanced her own education by earning Master’s and Doctoral Degrees from the University of Southern California.

Ethel‘s high school was a multicultural school, struggling with delinquency and many other challenges.  Dr. Andrus turned the school around by setting high academic standards and involving students in community projects.

Standing Up for Retired Teachers – Launching her second career

In 1944, while driving to a faculty meeting at the Los Angeles high school where she’d served as principal for almost three decades, Ethel Percy Andrus decided to retire and leave the school she loved in order to take care of her mother who had been in poor health. That decision resulted in the founding of two organizations that have made life better for millions of Americans — the National Retired Teachers Association and AARP.

As a volunteer with the California Retired Teachers Association, Ethel was dismayed to meet retired teachers whose pensions had been eroded by inflation and rising health care costs.  One day, Dr. Andrus paid a call on a distinguished former teacher who was living in a backyard chicken coop because her income was too meager to afford decent housing.

That injustice spurred Dr. Andrus to establish the National Retired Teachers Association in 1947.  NRTA gave retired educators a national voice in making life better for all.

At that time most insurance companies thought it risky to offer health insurance to people 65 and older.  Dr. Andrus was determined to develop an affordable group health insurance policy for retired teachers, and was turned down by 42 companies before she found one willing to take a chance.  The resulting health insurance plan proved so popular that NRTA’s offices were flooded with letters and phone calls from non-educators seeking to buy health insurance.

Standing up for all Older Americans – the founding of AARP

In 1958, Dr. Andrus decided to establish a new organization modeled on the retired teachers group and founded what was then known as the American Association of Retired Persons.  AARP offered an affordable group health insurance plan, and much, much more.

AARP advocated for public policy changes.  To keep members informed, Dr. Andrus founded and edited Modern Maturity, known today as the AARP Magazine — the nation’s largest circulation magazine.  Local chapters fostered opportunities for fellowship and service.  Trustworthy consumer information helped retirees stretch their dollars.  Charitable and philanthropic efforts focused on the most vulnerable in society.  And AARP used its members’ collective buying power to drive down prescription drug prices, to establish affordable group travel and encourage other companies to improve their products and services.

In addition, one of the nation’s first “universal design” homes was built by AARP in 1961.  Dr. Andrus conceived of the idea to help persuade delegates to the first White House Conference on the Aging to support construction of housing where people could live safely and comfortably as they aged.  She presented the keys to this innovative “House of Freedom” to former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Mourning the loss of a ‘friend to humanity’

When Ethel died in 1967, President Johnson said, “The life of each citizen who seeks relentlessly to serve the national good is a most precious asset to this land. And the loss of such a citizen is a loss shared by every American.  In Ethel Percy Andrus, humanity had a trusting and untiring friend. She has left us all poorer by her death.  But by her enduring accomplishments, she has enriched not only us, but all succeeding generations of Americans.”

AARP’s founder pioneered affordable group health insurance for older persons a full seven years before Medicare was enacted.  She recognized that simple modifications to homes could make them safer and more comfortable for people as they aged.  She helped to change the very image of aging, focusing on zestfulness, lifelong learning, purpose and service to others.

Dr. Andrus demonstrated that one person can make a significant difference in the lives of others.  She also demonstrated that, together, an “army of useful citizens” can do what no one person can do alone.  Today, in significant part because of the work of Dr. Andrus, Americans are living longer, richer lives.

From the beginning, Dr. Andrus’ motto, “to serve, not to be served” has shaped AARP’s community service efforts in the state.  Each year, AARP Montana honors the legacy of Dr. Andrus by awarding individuals who share Dr. Andrus’s foresight, sense of justice, individual empowerment and dedication to serving others.

“AARP Montana values the spirit of volunteerism and the important contributions that volunteers make to their communities, their neighbors and the programs those volunteers serve,” said Joy Bruck, AARP Montana State President.  “The Andrus award serves as a symbol to members and the public that we can all work together for positive social change.  We can follow Dr. Andrus’ inspirational example by using our unique talents and skills to meet pressing needs in our communities and in our nation.”

The deadline for nominations for the Andrus Award is July 1. For criteria and nomination forms, go to or call toll free 1-866-295-7278.



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