Ray Grudzielanek remembers his first volunteer project. It was the 1970s, and he heard about a Special Olympics program at Western Kentucky University. He decided to pitch in.
About four decades later, Grudzielanek, 86, has performed more than 25,700 hours of community service. He was awarded for that service Thursday during the President’s Volunteer Service Award ceremony. Grudzielanek, of Bowling Green, earned the President’s Call to Service Award, a prestigious award that only a handful of people across the nation receive.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have good health, and I was brought up that you need to give something back,” he said. “So, I got involved.”
More than 70 other local residents received awards for hundreds of hours of community service. They ranged from high school students to AARP members. In fact, the Bowling Green-Warren County AARP Chapter 1967 won the gold group award for more than 12,000 hours of community service in 2011.
Like Grudzielanek, others who attended Thursday’s event at the Carroll Knicely Conference Center began volunteering because it was simply a part of life while growing up.
“I grew up in a culture of volunteerism,” said Anne Grubbs, enrichment and volunteer coordinator for Community Education. “It was called ‘doing what needs to be done.’ ”
She remembers performing chores and cooking food for neighbors who were having a hard time, baby-sitting children and always lending a hand. Back then, it was called being neighborly. Grubbs, who volunteers for numerous projects, continues that neighborhood spirit.
She also remembers the 1960s and 1970s, when the “me generation” emerged, and many simply performed tasks that helped themselves.
In fact, Grubbs described herself as “a follower” when she was first volunteering. She helped out through high school clubs and, later, through her college sorority. She did it because she was told to and because everyone else was doing it, she said.
When she moved to Bowling Green, Grubbs got involved in community events through women she met here. Now, even with hours and hours of community service under her belt, Grubbs claims she is not a long-term, passionate volunteer.
“It’s because someone in this room asked me to do it,” she said. “We all do it because someone asks us.”
Similarly, Grudzielanek insisted on giving other people credit for his thousands of hours of community service. Over the years, he has volunteered for the St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, the Kentucky Association for Mentally Disabled, the Knights of Columbus and the Special Olympics.
He became passionate about organizations for the mentally disabled when his best friend had a son with a mental disability, he said.
“He would wait for me every day until I got home,” he said. “That was the start of it.”
And his volunteerism hasn’t stopped. He still hosts dances at the Knights of Columbus Hall for mentally disabled residents – the Halloween costume dance draws more than 350 people.
He also organizes the manger scene each Christmas at Fountain Square Park. It’s a project Grudzielanek has continued even in the face of opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, and despite the baby Jesus doll being stolen five times, he said.
But, like Grubbs, Grudzielanek says none of his work would have been possible without the support of others.
“I couldn’t have done it without all the people,” he said.
Mink, Jenna (2012, April). Grudzielanek’s service work noted. Bowling Green Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.bgdailynews.com/news/grudzielanek-s-service-work-noted/article_b890a0e6-8b16-11e1-be3f-0019bb2963f4.html