Magnificent Volunteers

By Rita Button

In this twenty-fifth year of The Beacon, we would like to acknowledge the contributions of all volunteers by singling out two longest time volunteers: Sharon Max and Jim Gerwing. I had heard so much about Jim and Sharon who had given their time and abilities unstintingly for The Beacon that I was looking forward to talking to them in preparation for this article. As usual, they were generous with their time and their memories. 

What great work Jim and Sharon have done together. Jim said, “I wouldn’t have done it if Sharon hadn’t been there.” Sharon smiled and said she thought he would have contributed in some way. But he persisted. “I wouldn’t have been working for the paper if you hadn’t brought me along.”

Fourteen years ago, Jim and Sharon met at the Breakwater coffee shop. Hooked together by their chiropractor, they found a happy rapport and spread their joy of helping, of creating community with the people who put together The Beacon.

Although both Sharon and Jim served as chairpersons of the Board at separate times, and both served on the board, Sharon started first. She worked on layout when cutting and pasting required actual scissors and glue. “It was chaos,” she remembered, “but it was fun. We’d spend a lot of time putting it together, go home exhausted, and then Constance would take apart what we’d done, and correct all the errors.” Sharon’s eyes smiled as she temporarily relived those days in the production room—which was the office, of course. All the space was used in multiple ways, although there was more space then, than there is now.

Constance Jansma, a coordinator whom both described as “the best in the world” worked with the volunteers. In those days, they had one computer; no one but Constance was allowed to touch it. Transcribing the handwritten submissions to print on the computer, she churned out the copy which the volunteers cut and pasted onto boards that, when printed, became The James Bay Beacon.

After Constance left, two or three computers became a part of the paper’s work force, a change that scared Sharon since she had no aptitude for those machines, but the volunteer world is a surprising one and Henry van Kampen came into the fold where he “saved our bacon” since not only did he understand computers, but he was also able to explain how they worked. And then along came the Switzers—computer savvy and filled with ideas, they co-chaired the board and contributed to the growing vitality of the Beacon’s volunteer community.

Somewhere amid all of these changes, Deborah Antonsen became the administrator of the paper. Neither Jim nor Sharon could remember exactly when she started, but they agreed that Deborah was another one of the greats, a person who enjoyed the work and the people who came through the door to offer their abilities.

Sharon also recalled that Tim Padmore, a board chairman, suggested that the number of volunteers would decrease with the increased use of computers. The days of chaotic cutting and pasting were disappearing, and Sharon still seems to regret the loss of the hubbub of humans trying to get a job done.

Jim went along with Sharon to one of her work sessions, and became involved mostly as a writer and cartoonist. He wrote hundreds of articles for The Beacon, but his work did not stop there. A former teacher, he also gave writing classes to the volunteers to help them hone their skills. One exercise he enjoyed assigning was requiring articles to be written using only 300 words. After the students had sweated through that ordeal, he would say, “Okay, great, now do it in 200!” Audible groans greeted his challenge, but he did succeed in developing the writers’ abilities to use language economically. Less is more!

Jim also excelled at creating cartoons. Schnockdurgle and Schlumpie became well-loved characters among the readers of The Beacon. What he did, he said, was take issues of the community and have Dr. Schnockdurgle respond to expose some of the follies of the issues. Sharon showed me a collated book which contained all of Jim’s cartoons, and in The Beacon’s office, Jim’s picture of Schnockdurgle still looks down on the conference table where we plan and discuss the elements of the next issue.

Both Jim and Sharon value the time they spent working with the people at The Beacon. It was always fun, both maintained, and Jim added, “If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.” Sharon added the idea of inclusiveness. Both value the idea of community, of people working together, sharing their strengths to achieve a common goal while enjoying each other’s company. “We worked hard,” Sharon said, “to become inclusive.”

Community, it seems to me, begins at home. Jim and Sharon’s love and respect for each other is obvious. I saw a smile that Jim gave to Sharon and which she returned that was so love-filled I felt privileged to have been there to see it. 

That is where we all want to be. And maybe it’s what made them exceptional contributors for The Beacon.

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