By Doug Lindner
SOLON– Two decades of volunteering would sound like a lot of work to some people.
For Anna McAtee, it’s all been fun.
Over the last 20 years, McAtee has been playing dominos, calling bingo and helping with church projects in the Solon community, and last month her work was recognized when Solon Senior Advocates named her the 2012 Solon Senior of the Year.
The award was presented by Solon Senior Advocates President Sandy Hanson at a May 2 Solon City Council meeting, and an open house was held May 9 at the Solon Retirement Village, where McAtee spends a lot of time volunteering.
“I was just plain surprised,” McAtee said of the honor. “It was really nice that they let my party be here (at the care center) because I’m friends with so many staff and residents here– a lot of them got to come over for a little bit.”
McAtee, 60, a Solon native, became an active volunteer in 1993 after she and her husband Duane moved back to the area. The daughter of Dorothy and Raymond Studt, she grew up on the family farm and spent her first night in town on her 13th birthday. She graduated from Solon schools and attended the University of Northern Iowa, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. She and Duane have been married for nearly 38 years and have two sons, Ron and Dustin.
She spent 14 years with the University of Iowa’s dietary department, but a severe bout of arthritis prompted her to stop working in 1990.
“I had to find things to do,” she noted, chuckling.
In 1993, she and Duane moved back to Solon and she attended a senior dining meal with her parents.
“I had a fun time with them,” she said. “And then I started calling bingo there and then it was all downhill after that. You just get into everything.”
She became a fixture at senior dining, and at the care center, helping with bingo and playing other games with the residents. She’s helped with worship services at the care center, been actively involved in the Solon United Methodist Church and Our Lord’s Church, and serves on the Old Gold Diner (senior dining) site council as well as the board of the Solon Retirement Village.
She’s provided rides to Solon area residents with health care appointments in Iowa City or Cedar Rapids, helped with several others to fill in as temporary site manager at senior dining when funding was restricted, and was involved in the formation of Solon Senior Advocates
“I just look out and if I see somebody who needs something, it’s just in my heart to go out and say, ‘Can I help?’” she said. “And if I can, I will. And a lot of times, if I can’t do it myself, I’ll find someone who can.
“The glory of it is I know there’re certain things I can’t do and nobody asks me to do those things. No heavy lifting or any of that stuff,” she continued. “It’s always things that I’m capable of doing.”
One of her talents is enjoying the company of others.
“I don’t think there’s anybody I’ve met who hasn’t become a friend in some way,” she noted.
“Just to hear people laugh and have a good time is really important to me,” she observed. “This is their home and they should be able to have somebody help them and laugh and have a good time.”
The staff at the care center really works hard to make that happen, and McAtee enjoys being a part of it.
“You really get close to some of the residents, that’s the hardest part about being here,” she noted. “Sometimes they leave too soon.”
She’s mostly been drawn to serving an older population.
She’s worked with children off and on, having worked early on with the Methodist church kids’ club and more recently coordinating visits to the Old Gold Diner by fourth graders from Lakeview Elementary.
But often, seniors are more in need of attention.
“There’s a lot of mothers that are willing to help (with kids),” she said. “I kind of went to things where other people don’t go.”
Solon has a lot of clubs and organizations providing volunteer services in the community, she explained, but they can’t always be everywhere. McAtee sees herself as filling in some of those gaps.
“Stuff happens here every day,” she said of the care center and its residents. “They feel like my family.”
McAtee estimated she spends about 20 hours a week volunteering Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between the Old Gold Diner, the care center and the church.
It was that dedication of time that prompted Solon Retirement Village administrator Melissa Reed to nominate McAtee as senior of the year. Reed said McAtee’s work helps establish good connections with the residents, building and strengthening the relationship between the center and those who live there.
“She’s by far our most consistent and involved volunteer,” Reed said, noting residents look forward to McAtee’s visits. “She brings a ball of sunshine with her when she comes. She’s always happy.”
“I have a good time at most everything I do,” McAtee noted. “I enjoy doing it, but when you see something that needs to be done and you do it, it’s just the right thing to do.”