Senior citizen 'gems of our generation' inducted into Hall of Fame

Since the opening of the Arbutus Senior Center in August 2010, Nancy Cusic has been a fixture, doing what she believes needs to be done, even when she isn't asked.

She makes candy and pastries, which are said to be hot sellers. Around Easter, she organizes an egg hunt for about 100 children. She runs the toy drive to support the nonprofit assistance group, Southwest Emergency Services — which collected 134 toys for the needy last year. She also decorates the senior center for holidays and special events, often with homemade decorations.

"She's a little dynamo," said Joanie Branamen, the secretary of the center's advisory council.

"She, on her own, probably accounts for 10 percent of our funds raised this year," said Dyle Hatmaker, the council president. The money goes toward improvements for the center. "She's like five volunteers in one."

Cusic, 82, was among 49 volunteers — including 14 from Baltimore County — who last month were inducted into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame, a nearly 30-year-old program that salutes the contributions of senior citizens.

"I always tell people these people are the gems of our generation," said Tom Kline, president of the hall of fame. "They've done so much and continue to do so."

The annual awards program, started in 1987, solicits nominations each January and selects up to 50 volunteers, who are honored at a luncheon, given a membership certificate and a lapel pin. They are also featured in the Blue Book, a listing of honorees and their accomplishments. A copy of the book is placed in the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame archives section of the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Library.

By several measures, the ranks and roles of seniors as volunteers are growing and their contributions are valuable.

The county's Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, a 45-year-old federal initiative run locally by the Baltimore County Department of Aging, coordinates about 2,000 volunteers a year.

From October 2015 through September 2016, 317,341 hours of volunteer work — worth more than $8 million — were done at about 40 agencies, up from 305,384 hours in the previous 12 months.

About 16 percent of Baltimore Countians are over 65 – up almost 2 percent from five years earlier, according to Census estimates. By 2060, the number of people in the country who are over 65 will double, according to projections cited in a January report by the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.

'Joy and happiness'

The bureau's report also cited research showing that a graying society — adults ages 50 and older – reported the greatest amount of "subjective well-being" among all age groups "and are happiest while socializing, working or volunteering."

"The pleasure I get out of volunteering fills me with a lot of joy and happiness," Cusic said. "The honor, to me, is that I've had the privilege of being with such lovely people and doing things to make them happy."

Two Catonsville residents were also inducted.

Bert Clegern, who has lived for six years at Charlestown retirement community, has spent time volunteering as coach of the Charlestown Sluggers softball team and a member of the Nature Trail Committee, which helps maintain paths on Charlestown's 110-acre Catonsville campus.

Clegern, 73, also helped start the Invasive Plants Crew, a group of 10 to 12 men and women who pull unwanted vines and weeds.

Volunteering goes well with Clegern's philosophy of making every place he lives a better place. He said he wouldn't do what he does if he didn't enjoy it.

"That's the part of being retired," he said. "If you're doing it right, you're doing what you want to do, when you want to do it, where you want to do it."

Clegern served for 29 years as a field biologist and environmental biologist for the Air Force and retired as a colonel.

He was nominated by fellow Charlestown resident Pat Kasuda, a member of last year's hall of fame class.

She described him as encouraging, supportive and an excellent team leader who has a positive outlook of life.

"Bert just doesn't know how to say no," she said. "He's a very vital part of this community and I felt he needed to be recognized."

"It's very nice recognition for the work that I've done, but the thing that's important is getting the work done," he said.

'Service to others'

Fellow Charlestown resident Ann MacKay was recognized for her work as the immediate past president of the Residents Council. She also heads the Apple Users Group on campus and helps run the website for CCICharlestown.org, which hosts information for residents and family members.

MacKay, 72, said she was humbled to receive the honor and appreciates the hall of fame's efforts.

"I think we have such a youth-oriented society that many times people that are older are kind of thought as second class citizens," she said. "When you think of the number of volunteer hours provided by older people, it's a real testament to service to others that they provide."

According to Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, the estimated federal rate for volunteer time in 2015 was $23.56 an hour, while in Maryland the rate was $26.64, the ninth highest in the nation. The rate is used by charitable groups to quantify the value that volunteers provide.

For Cusic, of the Arbutus center, a spirit of volunteerism was instilled at an early age, she said, when her mother told her the more she gave, the more she would receive. As a child, she was a teacher's helper. In high school, she kept statistics for sports teams. Once she had children, she was involved in the schools, tutoring at Arbutus Elementary and being involved with the PTA and sports programs. She started a Tiny Tots program for a local recreation council and has helped out at her church, including preaching sermons when the minister was away.

She is the first member of the Arbutus Senior Center to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, according to Susan Patry, the center's former director, who nominated her.

"Everyone at the center really appreciates what she does," Patry said. "She has such enthusiasm and makes everyone around her feel good."

Alison Vogrin, who directs the county's Retired and Senior Volunteer program, said volunteering is beneficial for emotional health by providing social connections and a sense of community.

She has noticed recent retirees wanting to volunteer because they're used to being driven while in the workforce and continue to feel a need to give.

"They don't want to sit around," she said.

A current trend, Vogrin said, is that people want to take part in skills-based volunteering to make a direct impact based on the knowledge, skills or experience they have. The Population Reference Bureau report also notes the retiring baby boomers are better educated with higher levels of skills that previous generations.

"Now, they want to see the result," she said. "It gives them more of a reason for what they're doing."

Of the members of the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame Class of 2016, 14 came from Baltimore County and one won its GERI award.

They are:

  • Vicki Becker, Owings Mills
  • Joan Bonthron, Parkville
  • Paul Brunner, Parkville
  • Joseph Clark, Rosedale
  • Robert Clegern, Catonsville
  • Nancy Cusic, Arbutus
  • Marge DelGavio, Parkville
  • Mary Ford-Herpel, Nottingham
  • Edward Herpel, Nottingham
  • Charles Hoover, Parkville
  • Mary Ann Lechowicz, Parkville
  • Ann MacKay, Catonsville
  • Shirley Neale, Parkville
  • Shirley Washington, Owings Mills
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