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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Volunteering is a natural fit

Aug 31, 2020 11:46AM ● By Melanie Wiseman

Readers select veteran Ed Wacker for 2020 Volunteer of the Year

Every Tuesday and Thursday, a ray of sunshine illuminates Grand Junction’s VA Hospital. His name is Ed Wacker, and he’s the BEACON's 2020 Volunteer of the Year winner.

“His contagious smile brightens our hallways as he greets patients and staff,” said Tami Bunch, Volunteer Services Manager. “With close to 200 volunteers at the VA, it’s hard for staff to get to know all of the volunteers, but everyone knows Ed.”

Bunch boasted that Wacker is dependable, optimistic, cheerful and always willing to help others. He’s such a good talker, it’s recommended you allow plenty of time for his visits. After volunteering at the VA for 10 years, Wacker has racked up over 5,500 hours!

A veteran himself, Wacker found volunteering at the VA to be a natural fit. He enjoys the camaraderie of other veterans and has reconnected with old friends—some after 40 years. Wacker runs the interoffice mail twice a day, takes samples to the lab or emergency room, escorts patients who have a difficult time getting around and performs any other necessary errands.

“I try to maintain conversation with people and help them relax and find comfort in a hospital atmosphere, which can be a stressful time,” said Wacker, 76.

Wacker served in the Marine Corp from 1961-1965. His service included two six-month tours in Cuba—once in 1961 after the Bay of Pigs and again in 1963. He remembers Cuba shutting off the water to the base in 1963, forcing the U.S. to quickly build a desalinization plant for the soldiers.

“We were not aware of the political stuff going on. We just waited on base to be called to alert,” said Wacker.

His job as an artillery repairman required a lot of traveling, particularly in East Asia. From the Philippines to Japan—including his 19th birthday on Mt. Fuji—Wacker covered a lot of territory. Fortunately, he finished his service before the Vietnam War escalated.

In 1975, Wacker and his wife, Beverly, moved their family from Pennsylvania to Colorado “on a whim,” seeking a better quality of life. He spent the beginning of his career mining for oil shale, and the latter 18 years surveying for the City of Grand Junction.

In addition to volunteering for the VA, Wacker helps Colorado Parks and Wildlife rescue animals that are injured or out of their normal habitat by transporting them to veterinarians or rehabilitation sites. When he’s not volunteering, he enjoys most outdoor activities, including biking, fishing and hunting.

“Volunteering feels natural to me, but being at the VA enhances that,” said Wacker. “It’s such a positive environment that’s full of good attitudes. It enlightens my character.”

On volunteer days, Wacker tracks 8,000-10,000 steps. He enjoys the exercise since he wants to stay fit and mobile.

When the pandemic hit, the biggest challenge of the three-month-long volunteer furlough for Wacker was missing the veterans.

“If you’re a people person, the VA is a great place to be,” said Wacker. “You’ll find new appreciation for your own life through the opportunity to serve.”

Honoring our outstanding volunteer nominees

2020 Volunteer of the Year Nominees

"Why do you volunteer?"

Karen Hughes, Nominated by Megan Tillotson, Roice-Hurst Humane Society

“The love of animals, the camaraderie of the volunteers and all they do for the animals. Roice-Hurst is an outstanding organization for the animals and they’re good to their volunteers. At one point, I was doing all the thank-you donation letters and follow-up adoption letters. I’m probably most well-known for sending over 600 letters during the holiday season.”

Randy Cook, Nominated by Crystal Brink, Mantey Heights Rehabilitation & Care Centre

“I just really enjoy being with the residents and giving them a smile on their face. Because of where they’re at—at the nursing home—a lot of them are bedridden. I try to brighten their day. Finally, after three months of staying away [due to COVID], the residents kept demanding that I come back...which made my day.”

Cathy Thomas, Nominated by Diane Barger, Mesa County RSVP

“I volunteer because there’s a need in the community for volunteers. I feel that I have a lot to give and why shouldn’t I share that? And it’s a way to meet people. I like to get out. It keeps me busy and out of trouble. Getting out meeting people and helping others keeps me young.”

Barb K., Nominated by Amy Neil, STEAM at Tope Elementary

“I really enjoy working with the kids. Being a volunteer is beneficial all the way around: to the community, to me, to the teacher, and to the kids. I really appreciate my teacher [Amy Neil]. She’s just top notch, and does a great job for the kids. I also want to put a plug in for the Foster Grandparents program through St. Mary’s Hospital, which placed me in the school and gives monthly trainings.”

Nominated volunteers not pictured: Laurie Buniger (Museums of Western Colorado), Jerry Johnson (HopeWest), Tricia Powell (Hilltop Community Resources), Deborah Thompson (Shelledy Elementary), and Becky Walker (Grand Valley Pets Alive).

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