Caring about Com­mu­nity

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Stanstead

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.”

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria vanier

Re­nald and Joyce De­mers, seen here at their Stanstead home, have been vol­un­teer­ing in the com­mu­nity for decades.

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