Pat P. Fraher retired a decade ago, but she has never stopped working.
Fraher, 64, visits a nursing home weekly, knits blankets for needy newborns, serves as president of the Friends of Towson Library, whose annual book sale she just organized, and is a master gardener willing to lend her training and expertise to fledgling planters.
She was among 1,200 volunteers honored last week by Baltimore County for donating time to senior programs, environmental projects, counseling, tutoring and other services.
"When a nursing home resident recognizes me with a smile, a handshake or wave, that's enough reward for me," said Fraher, a Towson resident. "You just know that you are helping people cope in a difficult situation."
Ethel Rasmussen, program and resources development director for the county Department of Aging, said volunteers like Fraher "do phenomenal work."
"They make a tremendous impact in their communities," she said.
Fraher left her job at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University in 2002 to care for her ailing husband, who was battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. She still volunteers with an ALS support group.
When he died in 2004, she was reluctant to return to the workforce. Instead, she chose a number of volunteer opportunities and continues in several of them today. As a member of the county's ombudsman group, she makes weekly visits to Manor Care Nursing Home in Towson.
"I can help solve some of the problems and sometimes make somebody smile," she said. "Some of the residents have no visitors, no one to listen to them. They have lost everyone close to them and have no one to even have a friendly chat with."
Sherry Kolbe, manager of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, said Fraher is adept at spotting minor problems and mediating.
"She is a friendly visitor that residents can trust," Kolbe said. "She can turn negatives into positives, and she knows where to refer the more intense situations."
Fraher also gives her own brand of inspirational pitches to senior centers throughout the county and tries to recruit retirees. She really has created a road show on voluntarism, said Kolbe.
"I talk about what's out there for volunteers and how much support there is from county staff," Fraher said. "You can still use your skills, learn new skills and meet many other people. I tell them what great things can happen when you get out of the house and help someone."