At a certain age, the ability or desire to volunteer often wanes.
That’s not the case with Lee Strawn.
Only a few weeks shy of his 100th birthday, Strawn is still giving back to the community. He volunteers one day a week at Good Neighbors Food Center, removes snow from his neighbors’ driveways and mows their lawns, and does woodworking projects that he gives away.
Strawn recently was chosen from a dozen nominees to receive the 2014 Charles Salem Humanitarian Award, an award given annually by the city of Akron.
“His life’s work is a testament to what one can do at any and all stages of life,” said Billy Soule, Akron’s assistant to the mayor for community relations. “Mr. Strawn does at 99 what most men wish they could do at 60. He is the poster child for community service and humanitarianism.”
The Beacon Journal recently sat down with Strawn to talk to him about how he does all that he does. His house is decorated with wood pieces he made — cabinets, tables, lamps, frames, music boxes, candy bowls and goblets — items in which he takes great pride. He can recite when he made each one and what type of wood he used.
Q: How did you get started volunteering at Good Neighbors?
A: My wife worked at Good Neighbors. There was a doughnut shop at Market and Hilbish. She would get a garbage bag of doughnuts and take it to the food center. ... When I retired in 1979, she passed the doughnut job on to me. I just stayed and never stopped working.
Q: What do you do there?
A: I go every Tuesday [to] fill shelves, fill orders for clients. I manned the desk for a long time. It got hard to hear the clients and read the small print.
Q: What do you do to help out your neighbors?
A: Years ago, I made a push plow and would do the sidewalks from Wedgewood to the tennis courts. Then, I got a snow blower. Now I do a little past the house next door and the other way and my own driveway and sidewalk. ... I like to keep busy.
Q: How did you get started with woodworking? I understand you’ve made and given away more than 20 communion sets, 150 toothpick holders, 50 clocks, 25 lamps and numerous picture frames and candy bowls.
A: I just got the opportunity.
Q: Did you sell your pieces or give them away?
A: I may have been paid for one communion set. A pastor asked me to make it and he was someone I wasn’t close to. The rest, I gave away for wedding presents, to church and to friends. Whenever we traveled, I would bring toothpick holders and give them as gifts wherever we stayed. It’s just a lot of fun.
Q: What was your reaction to getting the Charles Salem award?
A: Very surprised. The main force at Good Neighbors these days is George Camilletti [a volunteer and board member]. He’s the real glue.
Q: Do you think you deserved to be recognized?
A: Awards don’t really mean anything. ... You don’t do it for the awards. You do it for the pleasure of it.
Q: What would your advice be for someone who wants to volunteer or get more involved in the community?
A: Younger people today don’t seem to be interested in getting involved with the standard organizations.
Q: Why is that?
A: They make wages far beyond what I made. I traveled, maintained a home, played with my kids, worked at the church. Kids don’t do that today. ... Times change. People change.
Q: Do you and your family have any special plans to mark your upcoming 100th birthday?
A: Darlene [his daughter] asked if there’s some place I’d like to go. When you get to be my age, there’s no place like home. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I’ve been to every state in the union, nine provinces in Canada, seven countries in Central America, 10 in Europe. I’m happy to just stay at home.
Q: Do you feel like you’re nearly 100?
A: Not really.
Q: What’s your secret to nearly living a century?
A: I’ve kept very active. I think that’s what kept me going. You can stagnate.
Q: Is there anything you used to be able to do and no longer can?
A: I can’t walk long distances. I do short distances just fine. Just standing — I can’t just stand. I’ve got to move. I can stand in my wood shop, but I have to be busy doing something.
Q: Looking back, do you have any regrets?
A: In 100 years, I’ve got a lot of stories. I’ve had a full life. I am very thankful. God has blessed and been very good to me. He gave me challenges, but then gave me the ability to meet them. I have two good kids, four grandchildren and three great-grandkids.
Q: Any great-greats?
A: No. Not yet.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @SWarsmithABJ and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.