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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 27, 2008

Lessons in giving

The holidays are a time of giving and sometimes that means more than shopping at the mall.

Ann Marie Vogel provides a model of year-round giving. She and her late husband ran a dairy farm in the Hilltowns for decades. She counted on her neighbors and they, in turn, came to count on her.

When a stranger comes to her door, she serves fresh-baked rolls and hot tea. The phone in her farm cottage rings constantly as she coordinates the volunteers who drive seniors in town to medical appointments and to go shopping.

She doesn’t mind the interruptions, but rather seems to relish them. She greets each caller warmly and asks, “What can I do for you?”

That’s a good question for all of us to keep in mind. It reminds us of the words John F. Kennedy made famous in his inaugural address in 1961. “And so my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you,” he said, “ask what you can do for your country.”

Vogel makes herself happy by doing for others. We make a stronger community when we ask not what our community can do for us but what we can do for our community.

We’ve profiled Vogel this week along with two other Hilltown elders, Susan and John Miner, in our special holiday section in the hopes they will inspire our readers to be giving, too.

The Miners bake holiday breads and pies for people who would otherwise go without. And each year they pack shoeboxes full of presents for Operation Christmas Child — sending gifts to children they’ll never know on the other side of the world.

This is the second year that The Enterprise has helped spread the word for the Hilltowns Community Resource Center about its Holiday Fund for Seniors, which replaced the Albany Times Union Fund for the Elderly.

Last year, The Enterprise got a call from Kathleen Speck, director of the resource center, which is a program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany. In the past, she said, each senior identified by the resource center received $50. But last year, the daily newspaper switched the focus of its holiday fund drive to needy children.

“We will have 60 to 70 very disappointed seniors,” said Speck. “A lot of them are on their own, living on Social Security. Fifty bucks is a big deal to them.”

Speck asked The Enterprise to write about some of the Hilltown seniors and we were happy to oblige, devoting our holiday special section to the cause.

The resource center’s fund drive was a success, giving the seniors last year just what they expected. The center is continuing the drive this year.

With the help of the Helderberg Kiwanis and St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Delmar, the center plans to give  food baskets and a check to about 70 Hilltown and Altamont residents.

“We are all feeling the economic pinch,” Speck said this year, “so this is a hard time for us to ask but, as we proceed with our efforts, we need to know that you are with us.”

We’d like to keep in mind some words of wisdom that Ann Marie Vogel shared with us: “You do for people and they do for you and it keeps you going.”

To keep going isn’t always easy. The front cover of our special section, painted by Forest Byrd, shows a weary horse, plodding along in a snowstorm, pulling a carriage driven by a man who looks matter-of-fact about doing his job.  Life can be like that — a dutiful journey through a sometimes dark night.

But look closely at the painting. An old man is leaning out of the carriage window, his fingers resting on the edge of the door, his head pointed skyward with a look of anticipation on his face.

We can be like that if we choose. Our posture is a matter of choice. Consider John Miner. He hasn‘t let the fact that he is deaf keep him from contributing to the world. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English at Gallaudet University, he went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Connecticut and became involved in deaf theater.

“He really is a clown,” said his wife, who has done some clowning herself and makes people smile just by virtue of her warm and caring nature.

Ann Marie Vogel, too, has seen her share of hard times.

But she does more than just keep going as the carriage of life rolls through storms. She doesn’t cower in the back of the carriage. Like the old man in our cover picture, she sticks her neck out and points her face heaven-ward. She finds the beauty in the storm.

“The ice coats the trees so they sparkle,” Vogel said. “I think I live in the prettiest place in the world.”

Fifteen years ago, her husband, the love of her life, died. She was worried she’d lose the farm and felt very alone. “When my husband first died, I just shut down,” she said. “My friends stopped calling.”

But she went on. Later, when she had problems getting rides to her doctor, she said, “I went to the town board and told them my tale of woe. They said they’d rent a van if I would coordinate it.”

She did, and the program grew. Others join in when someone makes a commitment to a good cause. Money was raised to buy a van for the handicapped and now Vogel is busy coordinating volunteer drivers with those who need rides.

“I’m not good at taking things,” she said. “My reward is helping people.” It can be your reward, too.


Anyone who wants to contribute to the Hilltowns Community Resource Center Holiday Fund for Seniors may write a check payable to HCRC with a notation in the memo line, “Senior Fund.” Dollars will be redistributed to eligible seniors through the Catholic Charities. Checks may be mailed to the Hilltowns Community Resource Center, Post Office Box 147, 15 Route 1, Westerlo, NY  12193.

Contributions may also be made at collection buckets placed throughout the community.

Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

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