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Volunteers-In-Mission


By ANDREW MILLER
Daily Sitka Sentinel Staff Writer

Henrietta Van Maanen is planning to retire this fall, for the second time. In the 15 years since she left a career as the manager of a university extension program in Iowa, Van Maanen has worked at a coffee shop, a nursery and as an administrative assistant, among a number of other jobs as a Volunteer-in-Mission at Sheldon Jackson College.

This summer she is the longest-serving of the 14 VIMs on the SJC campus, working about 40 hours a week as a hostess for the church work groups that come from around the United States to volunteer throughout the summer on campus.

Other VIMs hold maintenance, housekeeping and clerical positions, as well as those at the hatchery, kitchen, gymnasium and cafe in exchange for free room and board on campus.

Van Maanen first came to SJC in 1991 to volunteer for a year as an administrative assistant in the president's office. When there was a change in administration later in the year, Van Maanen said she felt it was a good idea to extend her stay on campus to help for a smooth transition. Ultimately she stuck around until 1999, later working in the campus copy enter, before finally setting out for another volunteer position at Warren
Wilson College near Ashville, N.C.

Over the last six years, Van Maanen has returned to SJC on four occasions to volunteer for as long as 15 months at a time. Although some of her previous stays have lasted longer than she originally expected, Van Maanen said she is set on ending her current stay in early September to return to Iowa and begin a second retirement.

Van Maanen said her work at SJC has been “healthier than sitting around watching television,” but she wants more time to travel and to relax at a local community center in Iowa.

“I'm thinking about what to do next,” she said.

Affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, the VIM program has been a fixture at Sheldon Jackson for almost 70 years. In that time, college officials estimate, more than 1,000 VIMs have volunteered their services.

SJC communications director Holly Keen said the vast majority of VIMs have been retired people. She said many have backgrounds in education fields, but they have come from all walks of life including business, technology fields and farming.

“The time, commitment, talent and life experience the VIMs bring are vital to the success of the college,” Keen said.

While VIMs have provided essential services on campus, SJC chaplin Pat Sheahan said they also are an important part of the school's social fabric.

“I think they make the school warmer,” Sheahan said. “They become friends, friends to faculty, staff and students. Their friendships are expressed through their caring and their committed lifestyles, and this we all appreciate.”

Van Maanen said she first became aware of SJC and the VIM program when she was on a Presbyterian tour of Alaska in 1984. As someone with a background in education, she said she liked the idea of spending some time on a college campus in her retirement.

She said she has been a good fit for the program in that she does not mind living on campus in a dormitory-type setting, where she shares a bathroom and kitchen with other VIMs. And, she said, she likes the work, which has not been as stressful as that in her previous paying job.

“I like work, but sometimes I like the work without the responsibility I had in my regular career, where I was in charge of personnel,” she said.

Although Van Maanen has spent more time at SJC than other VIMs, that is not to say she has been a volunteer longer than all the others others. She explained there is a sort of culture of volunteers who travel around the country and the world to work on projects affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. She said some volunteers are so committed they have sold their homes in favor of a nomadic-type existance.

Don Beane, who is joining his wife for a second summer as a VIM at SJC, said he has done volunteer work in India and Ohio since retiring from a long career as a math teacher.

Beane said he came to SJC because of the variety of opportunities, and liked it so much he decided to come back. After two separate year-and-a-half long terms as a teacher in India, Beane said he wanted to work in an office at SJC.

This summer he has provided vacation relief for regular staff in the school's business office, registrar's office and mail room, but is now working at the hatchery, where he cleans tanks, feeds fish and answers tourist questions.

Beane said he had to memorize six pages of information about salmon in a
few days to get ready for the position, and he is happy to share his new knowledge on salmon return rates and the great distances the fish travel after being released into the ocean.

He said he is unsure if he and his wife will return to SJC, but he knows they'll continue to volunteer somewhere.

“As long as we're well and able to enjoy it, why become a couch potato,” Beane said.

Van Maanen acknowledged full-time volunteering is not for everyone, and said she sees nothing wrong with a person spending their retirement playing golf or bridge instead.

But, she said, those who get involved in volunteering will see some rewards. In her case, she said she particularly likes the interaction with the students and staff at SJC and the time she spends with her fellow VIMs.

“That's what I'm going to miss the most,” she said. “They're like a family.”