Rotary Club of Sacramento highlights hero volunteers

Jeff vonKaenel

What defines a hero? I started thinking about this after Rotary Club of Sacramento President Scot Sorenson asked me to organize the annual Hero Day program at Rotary.

With roughly 250 Rotary members in attendance, the traditional Hero Day presentation usually features dramatic stories of Sacramento soldiers, police officers or firefighters. I have been moved by their heroism. But this year, Scot wanted me to look for heroes in less familiar places.

Over the last several years, I have been doing a lot of work with Sacramento nonprofits and religious organizations. And I’ve been extremely impressed with the work done by volunteers, many of whom made a fundamental difference to the success of the organization. These people show up, not just for a day or two, but nearly every day, for many years. They become the glue that keeps some organizations together. To me they are heroes.

Knowing that the UC Davis Health System, Sacramento Habitat for Humanity and the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California all have great volunteers, I asked Dr. Claire Pomeroy, Ken Cross and Pam Saltenberger to identify a hero from each of their respective organizations. All three were delighted to do it and spoke from the heart about their volunteer heroes.

Claire explained how Norm Silveira has volunteered at the UC Davis Health System for 18 years. “During that time, he has contributed an amazing 5,260 hours of his time. That’s the equivalent of several working years,” Claire gushed. “His steady contribution has made him an integral member of the rehab staff.”

Ardelle Pearsall started volunteering at Habitat for Humanity in the late 1980s. She volunteered up until her death in December, according to Ken. He spoke of Ardelle’s ability to do framing, electrical work, windows, insulation and Sheetrock well into her 80s. Her son Robert was there to accept the award and to speak about his mom.

Hero Patti Oshita represented the Girl Scouts. Pam explained how Patti started leading a single troop at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento on Riverside Boulevard in 1992. Now, 18 years later, there are 18 troops of 194 girls, all due to Patti’s work.

The Rotary audience was clearly moved. The recipients received a standing ovation. Then I had a few minutes to present the heroes to the audience. When I asked Patti what her favorite experience was at the Girl Scouts, she told us about a time when a group of girls bearing gifts knocked at her door. Since Patti didn’t have any children of her own, the girls had come to celebrate Mother’s Day with her.

Patti, Ardelle and Norm are superheroes. These volunteers have a special superpower—showing up again and again, and again, and again. Never giving up, they’ve made Sacramento a better place.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.