Senior companion volunteers are home lifelines
Service to country is the bond that unites Bob Hanninen and Ken Aldrich, who get together weekly to tell stories, have coffee and enjoy each other's friendship.
Hanninen, of Menahga, became a Lutheran Social Service senior companion volunteer in 2008. Senior companions are part of the National Senior Service Corps, along with the Foster Grandparent Program and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Senior companion volunteers devote 15-20 hours each week seeing other seniors in their community who need assistance to stay at home and live independently. Senior companions provide friendly visiting, transportation to medical appointments, grocery shopping, and those things that friends do for friends.
Ken Aldrich benefits from Bob's commitment to service as he welcomes Bob to his home each week. Ken has Parkinson's Disease so his wife Donna stays close by Ken. When Bob arrives Donna leaves the two guys and then she can have some needed time to run errands or visit friends.
Bob served his country during the Vietnam War. Ken enlisted at age 17 to join the thousands of soldiers in World War II. The two former soldiers share stories of service when they get together.
Ken entered the Air Force as a cadet-in-training. Uncle Sam proclaimed "Men, at 17 you too can volunteer!" And volunteer he did. Stationed in Biloxi, Miss., during his tour of duty, Ken was the company typist, offering behind-the-scenes support to the men who participated in the on-base flight school.
"Taking typing in high school saved my life," Ken recalled. "The Air Force needed someone with my skills in the United States. Most of my group shipped out to the Japanese theater and not all of them returned."
Bob enlisted in 1963, received SEALS training and left for Vietnam in 1964. Bob served as a Special Ops for most of his service time; much of what he did remains top secret. Reflecting on his time in the Navy, Bob said, "I learned to become disciplined, to follow instructions, to work closely with others and to evaluate situations; these were good lessons for a young person."
When asked why he volunteers, Bob said, "People like Ken did their part for us long ago; so now I help them."
Ken enjoys Bob and says, "We have a lot of fun." The two soldiers understand each other, value each other's service and celebrate their friendship.
For more information about the Senior Companion Program in your community, contact Marcia Ferris at 218-839-6650. For more information about the Lutheran Social Service Caregiver Respite and Support Program, contact Iva Thielges at 732-7451.