Retired couple keeps active in church, community

December 16, 2011|By MEG H. PARTINGTON |

The Hagerstown couple, married for 32 years, met at St. John's Episcopal Church, to which they donate much of their time.

Bill helped start the St. John's Shelter, which is overseen by the church, in 1985, and has been the treasurer since day one, with grant writing being one of his many duties.

"I'm really most proud of that," he said of his work with the shelter.

The facility at 14-16 Randolph Ave. in Hagerstown has room for five families, plus an apartment for the caregivers, said Bill, 75. He said the shelter is full most of the time. Client stays last from about six weeks to as long as six months, depending on how long it takes families to get back on their feet.

Bill twice served on the vestry at St. John's Episcopal Church, on South Prospect Street in Hagerstown, and has been its junior warden. At St. John's, the junior warden is in charge of commissions — committees of the church — while the senior warden is the rector's confidant, explained Deanna, 72. Deanna is now the church's junior warden. In the 1980s, she was the senior warden, a role that previously had never been filled by a woman

Deanna also serves on the fabric and grounds commission at the church, which makes sure the structural, electrical, plumbing and engineering aspects of the facility are in good working order. She also is on the church's garden committee, she reads to kindergartners at Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown as part of the church's outreach and she serves on a committee that is helping to organize a tour of historic Hagerstown churches, set for Monday, Dec. 26, from 5 to 8 p.m.

"She is incredibly efficient and persistent," the Rev. Ann Boyd, rector at St. John's, said of Deanna. "She's really very personable" and works well with all kinds of people, Boyd said.

Bill is chairman of the church's strategic planning committee, which is charged with setting the church's goals for the next three to five years. Boyd said she admires his architectural gifts and the "camera eye" he has developed as an avid photographer.

"He understands the intricacies of the building itself ... the liturgical value of various aspects of it," Boyd said. She said he "helps us to remember it's not just about the artwork ... it's about creating holy space."

Bill designed the renovation of the church's undercroft in 1984, and in 1987 donated all the design work for a $1 million renovation and addition at the church, and work on its cemetery.

"They're invaluable to us," Boyd said of the Soulises.

His and hers

The Soulises also serve the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Deanna has helped with events at the museum, on the grounds of City Park, including its recent 80th birthday dinner and the Treasure Sale, which was held in November and raised money to help pay the museum's operating expenses. She also is a member of the Hagerstown Garden Club, which is associated with the museum.

Bill is a docent there once every two months or so, through which he hopes to learn more about art.

The church and museum are common ground for the Soulises, but from there, their volunteering diverges.

Deanna has helped with Hagerstown Community College's annual tribute to community members and helps with activities at Coffman Nursing Home in Hagerstown, where her mother resides.

Bill has been a member of the board for the Washington County Historical Society for eight years. He also is part of the Potomac Highlands World War II Roundtable, an organization formed to give Tri-State-area history buffs a chance to gather and learn about the largest conflict in human history.

"Some of them have beautiful stories," he said of the veterans who have shared tales of their service.

Bill also counts among his memberships the Torch Club, which encourages communication among members of different professions.

He also is on the alumni board of the Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, Pa. He travels there for meetings, taking time to tour around the area to see sites he didn't see while growing up because his family didn't have a car.

Bill has been a member of the board of managers at San Mar Children's Home in Boonsboro for two years, about which he says, "I'm still working on the learning curve on that one."

San Mar's five residential group-home programs serve at-risk adolescent girls, ages 12 to 18. Its treatment foster care and adoption programs serve at-risk girls and boys, ages 18 and younger.

Bruce T. Anderson, president and chief executive officer at San Mar, said he admires Bill for his thirst for knowledge. New members of boards often sit quietly during meetings in an effort to better understand what's being discussed. That's not the case with Bill, he said.

"If he doesn't understand what they're talking about, he stops them and asks them to explain," Anderson said.

The habit of volunteering

Bill retired from the military in 2004, after a career that spanned more than 20 years and included active duty in the U.S. Army and work at Fort Ritchie. He retired from Mack Trucks, now Volvo Powertrain, in 1987, where he put his structural engineering skills to use, but he still logs about 20 hours a week as a consultant for the company.

Deanna retired from teaching in 1996 after a 33-year career, 29 spent in Washington County. She also taught in Prince George's and Frederick counties in Maryland.

The Soulises have lived for 11 years in a house on West Irvin Avenue in Hagerstown. He designed it and she decorated it.

Bill said he "picked up the habit" of volunteering at St. John's.

While he admits at times he has "overvolunteered," he finds giving his time to be worthwhile.

"The rewards way outweigh the efforts you put into it," he said. "The pay is outstanding," though, "you can't quantify it."

By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Wilbur "Bill" and Deanna Soulis of Hagerstown readily give their time to the community. Among the recipients of their volunteering hours are St. John's Episcopal Church and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, both in Hagerstown.


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