Daily Press presents Volunteer of the Year award

HARRIS – For Bill and Janet LaMarch, it’s a “we” thing.

The Daily Press Volunteer of the Year award was presented to the Escanaba couple at Thursday night’s annual chamber dinner.

“I think it’s fantastic (that we were selected), but when we achieve these things, I like to use the word ‘we’ because it’s her and I,” said Bill.

The duo’s legacy of volunteerism during their more than 51 years of marriage led them to be selected as the Volunteer of the Year from among others who won the Daily Press Volunteer of the Month award in the last year.

The couple is actively involved with a number of organizations and auxiliary groups – including Disabled American Vets, VFW, American Legion, Vietnam Vets, U.P. Whitetails Association, Wildlife Unlimited, and the Salvation Army – but it was through the Marine Corps League and the Elks that the duo discovered their passions for Toys for Tots and the Dictionary Project.

Bill and Janet have been active with the Marine Corps League’s Toys for Tots program for a number of years, but it was only last year that Bill became the local coordinator for the program, which gave toys to 2,159 local children at Christmastime in 2012. While Bill is working on coordinating donations and drop offs, Janet is working with others in the Marine Corps Auxiliary to sort the toys into appropriate age groups, so each child can receive the right toys for Christmas.

“When a semi-load of toys comes in we’re kind of there to put them in different areas, so that we can pick from 0-to-2 or 5-to-7 or whatever,” said Janet.

The couple’s other love, the Dictionary Project, has been providing dictionaries to children nationwide since 1995. Bill and fellow Elks member, George Peterson, started the program locally, which provides every third-grade student in the Delta-Schoolcraft ISD with a free dictionary.

“We kind of go in there and explain what the Elks is about and what we do and kind of explain what the word ‘benevolent’ means,” said Janet, referencing the full name of the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks. “And then we have the kids take and look up ‘benevolent.’ The teacher writes it on the board and then the kids look it up in the dictionary.”

Now in it’s third year, the Dictionary Project has been well received by the students who have received dictionaries through the program.

“They’re very appreciative, because they all send you letters (about) ‘what I’m doing with my dictionary,'” said Janet, adding that one third grader had written saying they were bringing the dictionary to heaven with them.

The response to the program as helped to drawn in volunteers who had never had any experience with the Dictionary Project. The LaMarchs hope that being selected as Volunteer of the Year award recipients will continue to draw more people to volunteerism.

“If this award gets one more younger person to volunteer it’s a success. I mean, I’ve had my picture in the paper so much it’s time for somebody else,” said Bill.

While the LaMarchs hope that the award will prompt more people to volunteer, neither Bill nor Janet plan to stop their work in the community any time soon.

“I think if people looked around, if every person that volunteers stopped tomorrow the country would go under. It would if you think about it. And all we are is just like that little light out there so more people can say, ‘we can help,'” said Bill.

The couple credits local residents and businesses like VanAire Inc., of Gladstone which allows the Toys for Tots program to store and sort thousands of toys in a spare building they had in the Gladstone industrial park.

“They pay for the heat, they plow the snow, we got a bathroom – now when you’re working and you ain’t got a bathroom and you’re working for days you’ve got to run to the Holiday or something,” said Bill.

Bill and Janet see that generosity throughout the Delta County community.

“They give lots of toys, they give monetary donations, they’re really a good community,” said Janet.