Caring about Community
As the RH Rediker volunteer center’s director, Mylene Labonté, put it so succinctly last Friday during Volunteer Week: “Volunteers really do make a difference and ensure the well-being of a community.” Between the two of them, Stanstead’s Joyce
and Renald Demers have been volunteering in the Stanstead community for about one hundred years, so I sat down with them for an interview during Volunteer Week.
“How long have you both lived in Stanstead?” I began. “Joyce was born here and I was born in Coaticook. My father was working for Kilgore but he was getting sick from the dust from the furniture, so he came to work for the Ursulines when I was about nine years old,” explained Mr. Demers. Today, someone would probably choose to commute from Coaticook to Stanstead, but life was different back in the early 1950’s and the family moved to Stanstead.
“We lived across the street from each other and we used to go skating together at the arena. At first I didn’t know any French and Renald didn’t know any English!” commented Joyce. “I used to go and see Joyce’s grandmother who lived a few doors away for translations,” remembered Mr. Demers like it was yesterday.
Renald’s volunteering began at a very young age while at school. “When I was young I became a brigadier at Ecole Sacré Coeur. I helped kids cross the street and guided them in school,” he said. Volunteering at school continued when Renald went to Sherbrooke for his studies. “I could speak English by then so I helped the other students with their English.”
Over the years Mr. Demers started a youth group, served on various health and cultural committees, and helped found a local Optimist’s Club. Although it wasn’t a volunteer position, when Mr. Demers served as Stanstead mayor for four years, he must have done a lot of ‘overtime’ because he got a lot accomplished in the dossiers of the water treatment facility, the new highway, the development of Mountainview and the Colby-curtis Museum. “I still like to keep an eye on the town. I’m very interested in town affairs.”
Some of Joyce’s early volunteer work included being president of a baseball league, working with Jou-jou-tec, the toy-lending library, working at the flu shot and blood clinics, working as secretary of the ladies bowling league, volunteering with the Catholic Women’s League, and she delivered milk and eggs to young mothers. “When Joyce needed help with the delivery, I’d help her. We share things a lot like that,” said Mr. Demers.
“I began volunteering to get out of the house and spend more time with people, meet new people,” said Joyce. These days Mrs. Demers is president of the Club l’age d’or and she volunteers at the family counter fifteen to twenty hours a week. “I like working with people and I like working with clothes!” she responded when I registered my surprise at how many hours a week she spends at the counter.
Renald’s most recent volunteering has been primarily with the CAB RH Rediker where he has been the president of the Administrative Board for the past twelve years. But being the president doesn’t stop him from rolling up his sleeves for the physical stuff: he worked more than three hundred hours in just a few months (he had to keep track of his doing construction work in the renovation of the CAB’S new kitchen.
When asked where he found his motivation for doing volunteer work, Renald spoke with emotion about his childhood: “When I lived in Coaticook, my father often went to the United States to work in the woods, coming home on weekends. When my mother noticed he came back without his socks, she asked him what happened to them. He said he gave them to an Indian in the woods. Another time, my father kept asking my mother if she was ready for Saturday morning,” recounted Renald. That Saturday morning, his father loaded up the family car with a box of food, bags of potatoes and vegetables and the family drove to a small town about ninety miles away. There they found a woman walking down the street, mop and pail in hand and five children in tow. “Where is her husband? I asked my father. ‘He died’ was his answer. The food was for her. That really moved me to see my Dad do that. It was natural for him and I grew up in that atmosphere.”
Nearing seventy-five years of age, Mr. Demers is planning to slow down a little with his volunteer work to spend more time with his wife. “I gave up two organizations recently. That was hard. I like to go anywhere I can be of help.”
Renald and Joyce Demers, seen here at their Stanstead home, have been volunteering in the community for decades.