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Long-Time Library Volunteers Share Service, Camaraderie

The modest duo stays busy by helping others.

In a quiet, well-lit back room of Waukesha Public Library, two volunteers have worked together weekly for the last ten years mending books, checking contents and helping library staff with whatever needs doing.

They are very modest about their volunteer work because for them, it’s about keeping busy and doing something useful for the community.

Earl Honeyager, the library’s oldest volunteer at 90-years-old (next month), and Lee (Leor) Gaffney, a 74-year-old grandmother, pass the time with easy banter through their years of teamwork.

“Earl and I work well together, Gaffney said. “He makes me feel like a youngster.”

Since retiring from Waukesha Engine 25 years ago, Honeyager has stayed busy with various volunteer work at places like the library or Retzer Nature Center, and physical activity, such as golfing or biking four or five times a week.

He’s a regular on the bike trail to Wales. Last summer, he logged about 2500 miles on his bike.

“People tell me I’m in pretty good shape for almost 90 years old,” he said modestly. Often, he’ll stop at a local bakery in Wales and treat himself to a sweet for the ride home.

Honeyager is involved in other things, too. He can usually be found at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and he enjoys going to various high school sports events, watching his grandchildren.

“I follow them on their adventures now,” he said.

His three children grew up in the area but he’s got relatives all over, including shirt-tail ones like this columnist, thanks to a Honeyager step-grandfather on my mother’s side. Honeyager has been married for 61 years to his wife, Dorothy.

“She got me young and trained me,” he laughed.

Lee Gaffney, Brookfield, started volunteering at the library 12 years ago because she needed something to do.

“I don’t allow too much time on my hands. Otherwise I get in trouble,” she said.

She chose the library because it seemed interesting so she asked if they would mind if she helped out.

“I get great ideas about what to read and what to watch. I like that you can go somewhere and learn something,” she said. Plus: “The people there are nice.”

She’s been married 53 years, which is “not as long as Earl has been married,” she noted.

Like Honeyager, Gaffney has friends and families spread out over a large area. She raised her children in Waukesha and also took in three other children whose family moved during high school. Consequently, she has a large extended group she can always rely on to visit.

“We could travel for weeks and never have to pay for a hotel room,” she said.

Gaffney also volunteers at other places, as an usher with her husband at the Waukesha Civic Theater and the Wisconsin Philharmonic.

“Volunteer -- that’s my middle name,” she said, chuckling.

Volunteering is not all that she does, of course. Recently, she took time off from her volunteer work to help her daughter who was in a serious accident. Plus she has four grandchildren that keep her busy even though, she admits, she’s not a soccer-playing grandmother.

Both Honeyager and Gaffney are conscientious about volunteering but they also make time to savor the day.

“If it’s a nice day, sometimes we leave early,” Gaffney said. “Earl has to ride his bike.”

Nancy McGuire, circulation manager at Waukesha Public Library, said that library volunteers shelve audiovisual materials, checking the contents first by opening every case, mend books and do routine shelf maintenance.

A new assignment for volunteers is that of library ambassador, greeting people and helping library customers find books placed on hold, or using the self-check machines.

Volunteers must be over 20-years-old and go through a background check as part of the application process, according to McGuire. They also attend information and orientation meetings before starting, she said.

The Library’s core group of 20 to 25 volunteers provides 900-1000 hours of service a year, the amount of almost a half-time position. Some volunteer with a friend and some come in alone but once they start volunteering, they tend to stay.

Waukesha Public Library volunteers are mostly female, with average age is 70 and the average length of service is 10 years. The youngest volunteer is 22 and the oldest is Honeyager at almost 90. Up till six months ago, the oldest volunteer was a 92-year-old man who recently retired for health reasons. In recognition of the importance of their work, the volunteers are honored at an annual reception and luncheon.  

If you would like to help, you can pick up a volunteer interest form at the Special Services Desk of the library.

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