Senior Moment
'Thanks Bill'
by Rev. Bob Johnston

March 26, 2017

New Perspectives

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His knocking was always gentle as if he didn’t wish to intrude. When others knocked at my door, it was always louder.

When I served as police chaplain, local officers used to pick me up for a ride-along. Their door-banging was appropriately authoritative and easy to recognize. Neighbours have also learned to knock enthusiastically and repeatedly to ensure they’d be heard by aging ears not quite as functional as before.

Rev. Bob Johnston

His knocking always came in the frigid darkness of a February evening. Friends and family, even two gently persistent Jehovah’s Witnesses, mostly made their front porch appearances in the brightness of daytime and certainly in better weather.

I can still picture Bill Verkerke at my front door, well past eighty years of age. I always hastened to invite him in to take shelter and find warmth against some snow-filled, blustery streamer roaring over us from across the icy Lake. A small man, Bill would stand in our front hall, red-nosed and glasses steamed, as he pulled from his plastic bag a receipt book. He was making his annual pilgrimage down our mostly deserted side street to canvass for the Heart and Stoke Foundation.

He always called me “Mr. Johnston” even though he had spent more years on this earth than I had and I only knew him as “Bill.’”

Other canvassers were more assertive because they were working for a commission. One pushes me to switch my gas supplier; others to have my drive paved, my lawn aerated or my house painted. Bill just politely inquired whether I wished to give to the cause he represented.

In his last years of neighbourhood canvassing, Bill’s hand would shake as he wrote out my receipt. Trudging through the snow and painfully climbing those two front steps, even with the assistance of his cane, was becoming a challenge. But there he was, cold and tired, just fulfilling his chosen volunteer service.

Statistics Canada reports that in 2013, 12.7 million Canadians were involved in some aspect of voluntarism, contributing almost 2 billion hours of service to their communities. It is a bit concerning, however, that the number of volunteers has dropped from 13.3 million only three years earlier. I worry that the trend may continue downward.

Click the orange arrow to read the second column

Researchers have documented two other trends in voluntarism. More Canadians now prefer to give money to a cause rather than their time. A primary obstacle to volunteering is lack of available hours. A third shift is that volunteers increasingly want to engage in “ knowledge philanthropy,” offering a time-limited contribution where their specific talents and professional experience can be utilized to meet an organization’s particular need.

A previous Statistics Canada survey (1998) found that 49% of contributors made their financial support or time commitment primarily through a place of worship, Another 17% responded to a door canvasser while 13% contributed after receiving a mail request. That same survey noted that 31% of Canadians were supportive of voluntarism, either through giving time or money. Motivation for giving ranged from a desire to use one’s skills, a wish to contribute to the community or because one had been directly affected by the cause they now represented.

None of these statistics would have meant much to Bill. He kept things simple. He was born in The Netherlands in 1929, one of 8 children of Dutch farmers. With the wartime German invasion of Holland, Bill and his family endured the hardships of Nazi occupation for four long years. He would talk about the war when I raised the topic but always made the point that others had been much worse off. At least his family could grow food.

In 1953, Bill emigrated to Canada with only $27 in his pocket but with a desire to learn the language and become a proud and grateful Canadian. In the many years which followed, he gave back to his adopted land many times over. My last encounter with Bill occurred at the Care Centre where he spent his last years. After 15 Februarys canvassing in our community, he had now set up a little desk by the front door of the nursing home where he could still receive donations for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

In his 88th year, Bill died on March 18th. Those many honours and awards he earned as a volunteer have been well-documented elsewhere in obituary tributes. My own memories represent only a small, personal glimpse into his later-life contribution to our community.

Metaphorically speaking, I can picture Bill now at those Pearly Gates, about to quietly announce his arrival with a tentative knock on that massive door which opens to Heaven and eternity. Saint Peter has already heard about Bill’s good works, welcomes him home and quickly throws wide open that heavy door; this time Bill won’t even have to knock. A heavenly choir then greets him with this old Biblical chorus:

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter now into thy rest."

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Monday, March 27, 2017