SCWS Featured Volunteers
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”– Winston Churchill
We appreciate every one of the Senior Center of West Seattle’s volunteers, and we could not function without their amazing generosity and skill. The volunteers profiled below are just a few of our extraordinary volunteers.
Meet Jan Fisher
There are some volunteers that really have the passion—the passion to help and serve others. And, Jan Fisher is one of those volunteers!
Jan came to the Senior Center about seven years ago when a friend who played bridge here suggested she try volunteering. Jan had already served on many nonprofit boards in executive positions, but she really wanted to work with her hands and provide a service that she could see directly benefitting people. So, Jan joined our kitchen crew and immediately knew she was in the right role. She loves seeing people’s smiling faces as they enjoy food at the Senior Center.
Originally from Witchita, Jan got an undergraduate degree from Kansas State University and then went on to get her MBA in Economics at George Washing ton University. She spent time in Washington D.C. as a lobbyist for ARCO. When a public affairs position
opened in Seattle in 1990, she took the opportunity to move here. Her executive position had her overseeing government and community relations and communications for ARCO in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. She also got to experience life in Anchorage for a stint. After her time with ARCO, Jan worked in executive roles for Alaska Airlines and then finished her career at Boeing. As a retiree since 2010, Jan continues to be a lifelong learner. Her interests in phi losophy, theology and world religion led her to earn a Master’s degree in Spirituality.
Jan is effusive about the wonderful kitchen environment that Chef Francisco creates at the Senior Center. “He makes a happy kitchen!” she says. Jan is always impressed with how hard Francisco works, in addition to being extremely patient and dedicated to the volunteers and guests. This is just one of the reasons Jan continues to love her volunteer role. She describes the Senior Center as a “very vibrant community, with a big heart.” She also loves volunteering here because of the other volunteers she gets to spend time with. “It’s a celebration to be here!” she says.
When Jan is not volunteering, she might be traveling and spending time with her friends. She also enjoys photography, creative writing and watercolor. She is also busy darting around on her e-bike!
We are so grateful that Jan makes time to share her patience, wisdom and kindness with us here at the Senior Center. We are a better place because of volunteers like Jan!
Volunteer Extraordinaire Nov/Dec 2019 – BURKE DYKES
2019 Jean Carroll Exceptional Volunteer Service Award Recipient
Many mornings you will find Burke in our computer lab, plugging away and ensuring our computers are running properly. He is our official, unofficial, IT guy! Burke started teaching computer classes here in the mid-90s. Before he started volunteering his skills, our lab was burglarized and all the computers were stolen. Burke helped to scrounge up donated computers to fill the lab again so that people would have computers to use here. In 2008, Burke helped to write a grant to acquire new computers for the first time. Then about ten years later, Burke wrote another grant for the computers we currently have…Thank you, Burke!
Burke retired in 1993 from a successful career at Boeing as an engineer. Before he retired, he started building his first computer. He reflects back on those days as “a fun time!” There was a constant raging argument over computer design. “It was wonderful,” Burke says. “Do you design for functionality or for appearance?” Burke always voted for functionality. He built several successful websites, and of
them he said, “You could always find what you were looking for on my websites!” Burke built the very first website for the Senior Center. And if that wasn’t enough, Burke also learned to fly and got his pilot’s license after he retired from Boeing!
Burke grew up east of the mountains in Prosser. He grew up on a small working farm with his younger twin siblings. He described his parents as “planners” because he actually shares the same birthday as the twins who were born four years after he was! When I asked him if having twin siblings was fun, he said, “Hell no! They ganged up against me!” At about eight years old, he started working for other farmers in the area. In the mid-afternoon, all the wives would make up a big meal for all the boys working the farms. He described harvest time as wonderful and has fond memories of life on the farm.
These wonderful days on the farm came to an end when Burke left home to go to UW to study physics. Some years later, he was drafted to fight in the Korean War. Burke also enjoys theater and attends the annual Shakespeare Festival in Oregon where he sees seven plays in four days!
Burke describes the Center as his “home away from home.” He believes one of the most important things in life is to be of help to someone else, not out of obligation, but to voluntarily help others. He finds this satisfaction by volunteering many hours at the Center, not only keeping up the computers in our lab, but also offering help to individuals having issues or questions about their own computers, along with serving on our Board of Directors. It’s for these reasons and many others that we are so pleased to award him the 2019 Jean Carroll Exceptional Volunteer Service Award. Thank you so very, very much, Burke, for ALL that you do for the Center!
And if you see a silver Mazda, steel top convertible darting around town with a license plate that reads BOYTOY, give a wave to Burke!
Volunteer Extraordinaire July/Aug 2019 – BIANKA THOMKA
Back in 2016, Bianca Thomka saw an ad for volunteers in the West Seattle Blog and felt that it was a good time to give back to her community, so she responded. Ever since then, she’s been volunteering in a variety of important roles at the Senior Center. She’s assisted our Social Workers with all of the data entry they are
required to do, but don’t always have the time for. She’s been an integral member of our kitchen crew, helping to provide a home-cooked meal to those who join us for lunch during the week. She’s even stepped up to take the lead with this crew when the chef has been out sick or on vacation. Bianca’s been so incredibly valued in these roles, it’s hard to believe she found a way to be an even more extraordinary volunteer with her contributions to our monthly Rainbow Bingo fundraiser.
If you’ve ever rounded the corner into Hatten Hall before one of these monthly Rainbow Bingo events and found your jaw drop in awe when catching sight of the amazing decorations, Bianca is often the person behind them. Bianca will find out the theme of that month’s event and then research decorating options and possibilities online. Once the decorations are decided upon, Bianca will either make them herself or buy them and donate them to the Center.
Making them has included blowing up hundreds of balloons to create columns and to hang from the ceiling, gluing hundreds of colored strips of paper together (in correct rainbow order!) to create looped chains to form a radiating ceiling decoration, cutting out numerous Super Heroes logos on construction paper to hang from the ceiling or to affix to the walls, fashioning an adorable likeness of Cousin Itt to greet attendees at the entrance to the Hall, and so many more. She’s even built a frame to hold a backdrop customized to each of these events!
A little bit about Bianca…She was living in Los Angeles when she decided to relocate to Seattle in order to follow her best friend who had moved to the area earlier. Soon after coming to Seattle, she met her future husband at the old Ozzie’s bar on Queen Anne He actually proposed to her on the rooftop of the infamous karaoke bar! The two of them, along with their dog Dolly, now live in West Seattle where Bianca works part-time for the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
Bianca’s passion is in buying items and reselling them on her Etsy shop and her eBay store. Her online stores specialize in vintage items, coffee mugs, and unique treasures she procures in her hunts. If you’d like to see these treasures, you can visit her online shop on Etsy called The- FeatheredCurator or her eBay store called MoxieMugs.
When asked her how volunteering at the Center has impacted her life, she replied “It makes me feel better; it’s enriching. It has made me less self-centered. I tout the Senior Center everywhere I go and I tell people how wonderful it is here!” She says she loves to see the joy in people’s eyes when they see the decorations she creates – it makes it all worthwhile!
Well, we all tout Bianca’s willingness to share so much of her time and her many creative talents, as well as her boundless energy and enthusiasm with our Center! We are so grateful for her ongoing dedication to our Center, to our community, and to creating such beautiful and festive atmospheres for events here. The fruits of her hard work are enjoyed by so many, over and over again.
Volunteer extraordinaire Mar/Apr 2019 – Terry Holm
Have you seen one of the “Greatest Movies You’ve Never Heard Of”? If you haven’t, it’s time to do so. Not only can you come and see a movie on Wednesdays and Fridays at 1pm, but you can learn about the movie from Terry Holm. Terry will happily take some time to discuss his top movies with you. He refers to himself as the Curator of all the best movies! For almost 10 years, Terry has been showing movies at the Center from his long list of favorites. Terry began coming here to join in the dance classes. One day he heard the previous movie volunteer expressing some dissatisfaction with his job, and Terry jumped on the opportunity to take over a job that was near and dear to him. Terry said, “He didn’t know as much about movies as I do…well, who does?” That was it, in 2010 Terry took over the movies at the Center. He generously bought all new equipment and room darkening drapes to enhance the movie viewing experience for all.
As a Seattle native, Terry was 7 years old when his family got their first TV. He was only about 8 when he took the bus downtown by himself to see the triple feature for 25 cents! Terry’s apprenticeship at Boeing was interrupted by being drafted in 1968. When he returned, he went back to Boeing and worked as a precision toolmaker for 40 years. While he was working full-time, he returned to University of Washington for Cinema Studies, learning about film critics. If you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, talk to Terry…he wrote a 54-page thesis on Hitchcock!
If Terry is not here sharing his favorites with you, you might find him at home watching one of his 800 DVD’s! He estimates he averages about 2 movies per day. Terry also enjoys taking Turner Classic Movie cruises – he has already sailed on 6, and has more planned for the future. We appreciate all the time, and movie knowledge Terry has brought to the Center over the past 10 years – and we look forward to many more…and FREE POPCORN!
Volunteer extraordinaire Jan/Feb 2019 – Charlie Strong
When Charlie was young, he always got musical instruments for Christmas. One year his mom rented him a trumpet-she really wanted him to play the trumpet! Finally, when Charlie was about eight years old, he received a ukulele for Christmas. This was a good fit for Charlie. Music has always been a big part of his life.
Charlie has lived in West Seattle since 1945. He retired from Boeing after 32 years of doing art and drafting there. He spent several years playing guitar 3-4 nights a week in a band – they all dressed up as pirates and had a great time carousing around town!
In the summer of 1995, Charlie was asked to join The UKES, Unique Kind of Entertainers. This group was started by local musical legend, Ray Johnston, in 1995. It was a natural progression for Charlie to take over the UKES in 1999, when sadly, Ray passed away. Since then, the UKES have been playing together here at the Center for a Sing-a-Long on Mondays at 1pm.
Originally, the group averaged about eight to twelve players. Then, a couple years back the Seattle Times ran an article featuring the UKES and after that, the group doubled in size! About a month ago, they had 31 players – the largest group ever!
The group plays music out of the four song books that Charlie has compiled over the years. These books have been a group effort. They started with a group of songs from Ray’s library that was supplemented with his handwritten Dixieland arrangements. Charlie added words and chords to these arrangements. The books have been added to over the years by people from the group, The Seattle Ukulele Players Association, and The Edmonds Ukulele Group. Charlie says he has enough songs for two more books!
If you haven’t already met Charlie, stop in on a Monday at 1pm and you will find him, as well as some wonderful ukulele entertainment! When Charlie is not playing music, you can find him working on his beach cabin in Copalis and spending time with his seven grandchildren and his five great-grandchildren!
Charlie and The UKES play around town at community centers and retirement communities. Charlie says, “We play for food, like Jimmy Buffet said, I will play for Gumbo!” You can catch The UKES performing on January 17th at Brookdale on 35th in West Seattle.
Volunteer extraordinaire Nov/Dec 2018 – Darnell Nelson
If you noticed a flash of bling down in the Stop ‘N Shop, it was probably Darnell’s cuff links! He’s usually sporting a snazzy shirt with even snazzier cuff links!
Darnell Nelson has been working down in the shop for about a year and a half. He was born in Oklahoma and is the oldest of eight children. His family moved to Seattle in the mid 60’s.
For Darnell, academics came easy and he graduated with honors. He studied law and spent his career working in the Treasury department of the federal government.
When Darnell is not working at the shop, you might find him tending to his roses. He also enjoys geology. He says, “The rocks, they keep me grounded.”
On the flip side, there’s nothing grounding about the fact that he misses the tornados in Oklahoma. Growing up, he liked to watch a good storm come in over the plains.
When talking about volunteering at the Stop ‘N Shop, Darnell says he has seen some interesting characters come in. One of his most memorable moments was witnessing his first shoplifter. She milled around the store for over an hour, when she finally just walked out with a bunch of clothes. Acting on instinct, Darnell chased her down the street and said, “Don’t you know the law?”
We are lucky to have him on our shop crew, and he feels lucky to be here. What he likes best about working here is the people. “You’re al so interesting” he says.
Be sure to say hello to Darnell when you are shopping at our lovely thrift store soon – make sure you have a few minutes…Darnell LOVES to talk!
Volunteer extraordinaire Sept/Oct 2018 – Amy Eby
Interviewing Amy Eby, one of our amazing Westside Friends volunteers, makes me wish that she could adopt me to be her friend! Her contagious smile, boundless energy, and quick sense of humor kept me laughing the whole time I spent with her. When Amy first moved to Seattle in 2000, she noticed many ‘grandmas’ and ‘grandpas’ around town. She was missing her family back in Indiana and had the urge to invite them all home for dinner. This motivated her to come in to the Senior Center (with a few of her friends in tow) to start an “Adopt a Grandparent Club.” Although her intentions were good, the Club did not become as popular as she had hoped.
Then life took a welcome turn when she started a family. She then spent the next 15 years raising her son and daughter and shared her ‘extra’ time within her kids’ schools. When her kids got a bit older, and “Now that they are not talking to me,” she says with a laugh, “I have some extra time to make a difference. It feels good.”
Amy came back to the Center in 2015 to volunteer with our Outreach Program, now called Westside Friends. She met with our Social Worker, Holly McNeill, and was matched with a client who needed some companionship. Amy consistently goes above and beyond with her client; she includes her as part of her family! She plans surprise birthday lunches for her client and joins her at most of her appointments. Amy is a doctor and this makes her a valuable advocate for her client.
Amy also includes her client in family and holiday dinners. She told a funny story of how her client was refusing to come to Christmas dinner. She did not want to be without her raised toilet seat. Amy went out in snowy weather and found a raised seat at the last minute. She was not about to let her sweet friend miss out on Christmas dinner!
This way of going out of her way to help her Westside Friend and including her as family is why we chose to honor Amy as our featured volunteer! Thank you, Amy, for all you do! You truly are an inspiration!
Volunteer extraordinaire July/Aug 2018 – Shandee Jones
If you miss her morning arrival, donning a different hat from the day before (she has more than 30 hats to choose from), you may have to peek back in the kitchen to find her! Shandee (Valerie) Jones has been helping to keep our kitchen going and our dishes spotless for over a year now. Shandee also works in the Café once a week where she shares her warm smile and dry sense of humor with our members and guests. Many years ago, one of her friends gave her the nickname “Shandee.” Her friend considered her to be extremely sensitive, like a chandelier, and the name stuck!
Shandee moved here from Chicago over 20 years ago. She happened to visit the area during a sunny weekend. “I chose to move here before I knew about the grey,” she said.
Shandee comes from a big family with five sisters, as well as many nieces and nephews. Following her mother’s lead, she received a degree in Social Work from Northern Illinois University. She decided, however, to take a different route and spent more than 16 years working as a Lab Tech for Amgen. When she was laid off, she decided to end her relationship with corporate America, which was much to our advantage!
When Shandee is not working, she enjoys music, making jewelry, bowling, dancing, and playing games. Studying her genealogy and learning about her family roots is also a passion for her. I asked her what she liked about working in the kitchen, and she said, “It’s like meditating, I can think about anything that comes to my mind while I’m doing dishes.” We are so grateful to have Shandee here! We look forward to seeing her happy face in the morning and to see what hat she has chosen for the day…
Volunteer extraordinaire May/June 2018 – Dale Gideon
If you’ve visited our Café lately, you may have had the pleasure of meeting Dale. After Dale applied to volunteer last Fall, he was traveling often with his job doing training and development for teachers in Texas. It took a while to reach him and get him behind our counter, but he was worth the wait!
Dale grew up in Texas with two older sisters. Maybe it was these sisters teaching him the way in life that led him to be a teacher to people of all ages. Dale’s teaching has ranged from pre-kindergarten up to junior college, with his favorite being high school seniors. He taught English Language Arts, Social Studies, Psychology, and Sociology over the years. One of his first volunteer experiences took him on an adventure to Estonia where he was a volunteer English Teacher. Being an adventurous young man in his mid-20’s, Dale didn’t even know who was meeting him at the airport when he arrived halfway across the globe…luckily someone showed up!
Dale left Texas in 2016 when his partner landed a job at Amazon. When he’s not working in the Café or selling cocktails at Rainbow Bingo, he enjoys reading, gardening, and cooking. Dale works hard, makes a mean sandwich, and is always willing to help out when we’re in a pinch! Dale is on a journey to find his next career path, and we selfishly hope that is a long journey! So be sure to stop by and enjoy his kindness, sandwiches, and his sense of humor while you still have the chance!