SOLON– Bev Noska and Elaine Reynolds have spent a lot of time volunteering together.
Enough that one can finish the other’s sentence, at least when it comes to discussing their contribution of time and effort.
“You get more out of it,” Elaine started; “than you can ever give,” Bev finished.
The two were recognized by the Solon Senior Advocates as Seniors of the Year for 2011, an award given out annually since 2006, for their involvement in the community.
The awards were presented by Mayor Rick Jedlicka and Advocates president Sandy Hanson at a May 4 Solon City Council meeting which was preceded by an open house for this year’s winners as well as past honorees. Previous winners include Jack Neuzil, Wayne Croy, Milt Hunt, Pat Ikan and Marie Kroul.
Both Noska and Reynolds have lived in the Solon area since the late 1950s. Both are members of the Solon American Legion Auxiliary, both have been active in Solon Senior Advocates, the Old Gold Diner (senior dining program) and their respective churches, and both have volunteered at area hospitals.
Noska, 77, grew up in Masonville (between Manchester and Independence) and arrived in Solon via marriage. After graduating from Winthrop schools in 1950, she took up work at a newly-constructed hospital in Manchester, and then moved to Cedar Rapids for a job with Rockwell.
It was during that time she met her future husband, Leonard Noska, “at the infamous Danceland.” They married about a year later and moved to Solon in 1957, raising six children in the house where Bev still resides.
Between 1968 and 2000, Bev was employed by the United States Postal Service, working in Solon and Mt. Vernon.
Elaine, 74, has spent most of her life in Johnson County. Born in Swisher, her family moved to North Liberty, and then to Oxford. As an adult, she lived in Iowa City before moving to a farm south of Solon in 1959, where she and her husband Gene raised five kids.
Both Elaine and Gene worked at Wayne Feeds off Highway 6 near Tiffin– Elaine was a distribution manager while Gene was a truck driver. “It was a very stressful job,” Elaine recalled.
She retired after 21 years in 1990, the same year she underwent heart bypass surgery at Mercy Iowa City.
It was after that surgery that Elaine began volunteering. She began working in the Mercy payroll department, but then started donating time as a patient escort and at the information desk.
“Just to get out,” she explained. “You miss being around people after working for so many years.”
One thing led to another. She began spending time at the Solon Nursing Care Center, taking part in the Chime Charmers bell choir; after Gene passed away in 2005, she become more involved in the Solon Legion Auxiliary, helping with things like baking, prepping for funeral dinners and decorating the parade floats.
Three years ago, she joined Doris Looney and Bessie Drahos in recycling greeting cards to support the activities of the Old Gold Diner. The images and text from donated cards are reused in new cards which are sold at the dining site. As many as 100 a month are sold, she said, and the proceeds go toward entertainment and other activities.
At around the same time, she became a member of the Old Gold Site Council, a locally organized governing body which meets monthly to plan events for the senior diners. Site council members also volunteer as workers every month.
The health of the senior dining program is important to both Reynolds and Noska.
Bev had formerly been a site manager for Solon’s senior dining, and had spent a lot of time as part of operation when the meals were home-cooked in Solon instead of delivered from Iowa City.
“We had huge numbers of people here then,” Bev recalled.
She’s concerned many older residents still attach a stigma to the idea of attending the senior meals.
“That’s why a lot of people don’t come to senior dining, because they’re afraid to face being old.”
Aside from her involvement with senior dining, Noska has also volunteered at the Veterans Administration hospital, as a patient advocate at the Solon Nursing Care Center and as a 50-plus year member of the Solon Legion Auxiliary.
She’s also been a part of the Solon Senior Advocates since its inception.
Back in 2000, she explained, Johnson County was looking to cut back on the number of Solon visits made by the SEATS public para-transit system.
“A group of us started meeting to discuss senior needs,” Bev said. The Solon Senior Advocates was formed as a result, with a primary mission to raise funds for the purchase of a locally-controlled, handicapped-accessible van for the transportation of seniors.
About $40,000 was raised, she continued, with one of those fundraisers being a can collection drive.
Ever since, Noska’s garage has been a collection point for redeemable cans and bottles.
“I’ve kept it up all these years,” she said. “I have no idea who most of the people are or when they’re there.” But every month, bags and bags of cans and bottle make their way to her garage, and she painstakingly sorts them all (Elaine, also a member of Senior Advocates, has helped, too) and then takes them to the Can Shed in Cedar Rapids.
The money raised (over $500 this year alone) has been used for the maintenance of the Senior Advocates’ van. “Everybody knows me at the Can Shed,” she added. It’s good for the Advocates and good for the environment, she suggested, noting there is now “nothing that ticks me off more than to see a beer bottle in the ditch.”
Neither Noska nor Reynolds see what they do as work; they both consider it a natural part of living in a small town.
For Elaine, it was instilled to an extent by her mother. “She would always say to me, ‘Someday you’re going to be there, too.’” Volunteering has been enjoyable for her, a way to meet new people and make friends. “It makes you feel good,” she noted.
Bev agreed. “People would feel so much better if they did a little volunteering,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing to give back.”