Volunteering keeps couple feeling youthful

March 08, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Volunteering keeps couple feeling youthful

SMITHSBURG - Technically, the Harshmans retired years ago.

But, for them, that mostly means they're not drawing paychecks anymore.

With all their commitments, the Smithsburg couple is hardly kicking back in their golden years.

Both still put in lots of hours each month as volunteers for various nonprofit organizations in Washington County.

They do it, they say, because they enjoy helping others and it gives them something interesting to do with their time.

"That's what keeps you young, doing things for other people," said Virginia Harshman, 78, who retired from the Washington County Board of Education in 1981.


Retiring from her job as coordinator of migrant education gave her more time to volunteer at the Smithsburg Food Bank, which she'd been active with since it formed in 1977.

She kept it up for 20 years, she said.

"I've never been hungry. I've never had that experience. And I just like to help people," said Virginia, who formally retired from the food bank this year but hasn't abandoned the commitment. "When they can't find anybody, they still call me and I still go."

Husband John "Jack" Harshman, 74, didn't stay idle for long following his retirement in May 1986, after 35 years as a technician with C&P Telephone Co.

By July, he'd started driving a van for senior citizens in Smithsburg.

"They got me real quick," said Jack, who said he was recruited by a woman from the town's senior center who heard he retired.

He didn't mind helping out, he said.

"It gives you something to do, change, something new," said Jack, who said he has gotten a great deal of satisfaction from the hours he's put in over the years. "You pick up people who for the most part don't have any transportation. You're getting them out in the world. Many are restricted to their homes."

In 1988, he took on an additional job - keeping the client files for the Washington County Commission on Aging.

When he started, it was all done by hand, he said.

"The numbers had to be counted," he remembered.

Things became easier when they switched to computers in the early 1990s, said Jack, who keeps track of which of the 55 Commission on Aging services each client receives.

Together, the two jobs take between 40 and 50 hours of his time per month, he said.

Then there's the Smithsburg Historical Society work he and Virginia do together.

About six years ago, the couple volunteered to serve on a committee to write a history of schools in Smithsburg.

The project has required long hours of research into historical society records, which date back to 1872 for the schools, they said.

They try to put in a day of work on the project twice a month, and are getting close to finishing the history, which will stop with the opening of the new high school in 1966, said Virginia, who graduated from the old school.

Continuing the history after that date isn't their problem, she said.

"Whoever went there, it's up to them to get a committee together and do it," Virginia said.

That group would include the Harshmans' two sons, Kent, 40, and Lynn, 36, she said.

Over the years, the Harshmans have stayed active in their church, Chewsville United Methodist Church.

Jack serves as treasurer and sings in the choir.

Virginia directed the choir for 40 years before she retired from the post when retiring from the school system.

She kept teaching Sunday school at the church, something she has done since age 16.

Virginia is also president of the Women's Christian Temperance Association in Smithsburg, which sponsors contests to educate children about drugs and alcohol.

With so many commitments, the couple said, there's not much time left for hobbies.

Ever since retiring, however, they've tried to make an annual road trip, ranging from one to three weeks, Jack said.

"We have a time-share. We trade that and go different places," he said.

They've ended up visiting all 48 contiguous U.S. states, he said.

"We didn't have a definite plan. Of course, once we got to a certain number, we started saying 'We didn't see this one or that one,'" said Jack, who said they have no plans to venture out of the country, which offers a variety of wonderful scenery. "There's a lot of country out there."

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