A short time ago, five former presidents stood together on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, to seek support for One America, an organization dedicated to raising funds for flood victims resulting from recent storms in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The event also provided an opportunity for the recognition of the 2017 Points of Light award recipients. The Points of Light initiative was founded by President George H.W Bush and has been continued by all of the subsequent presidents.

President Carter was the first to speak and eloquently lauded the volunteerism in America which, in fact, makes our country work. Carter speaks from long experience. For over 60 years, he and wife, Rosalynn, have dedicated a week each year to the building of Habitat for Humanity homes. That organization has committed to build 6,000 homes in the aforementioned flood areas. And it, like many others, cannot exist without volunteers. The remarks of the remaining former presidents on stage, Presidents Bushes 41 and 43, Clinton and Obama, were also highly complimentary of those who volunteer.

Statistics for the most recent year surveyed illustrate the scope of volunteer effort in the U.S.: 62.6 million people, representing 25.4% of the population, delivered over 8 billion billable hours with an estimated value of $173 billion. The population group most inclined to volunteer are those representing ages 35 to 44 with 30.6 percent participation. Overall, women volunteer at a 28.4 percent rate while men follow at 22.2 percent.

Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father most associated with volunteering in America and the promotion of such as a civic duty for each citizen. During his lifetime, Franklin organized a Philadelphia volunteer fire department, circulation libraries, public hospitals, mutual insurance companies, agricultural colleges and intellectual societies. He recognized the need of civil society to develop services and institutions beyond the capacity to deliver of formal government.

All of us are familiar with the many boards and commissions necessary for the successful administration of a governmental unit. Zoning and planning are necessary functions of government as are the administration of governmental units such as libraries, hospitals, museums or cemeteries. And this is to say nothing of the elective positions necessary to form city governments, townships, drainage districts, hospital boards, rural water districts, watersheds and other governmental units. Typically, these are all-volunteer positions. Democracy requires participation.

So too does the work of charitable organizations and churches. Take note of the workers at the local food bank or the thrift shop or the blood drive. Consider the leadership of the 4-H organizations or the Scouts. Recognize those who coach youth sports or referee games or transport young athletes. Admire those who volunteer in homes of the elderly or in hospitals. Try to understand how a church would function without the participation of those who clean or those who prepare funeral lunches or those who mow the grass. In short, civil society could not function without the volunteer. It was to recognize and support their contribution that President Bush created the Points of Light program. And it is why succeeding presidents have deemed it worthy of support.

Here in Rice County it was our sad duty last week to attend funeral arrangements for two in our community who certainly qualified as “points of light.” Anna Marie Young spent a lifetime as a volunteer. From 4-H to Extension to library board to museum to thrift shop, she was a constant presence. She and husband Dell earned local recognition for constant “doing good.” Respect for that legacy is obvious in our Lyons community.

And to the south, in Sterling, Dr. Tom Simpson earned equal respect. In addition to providing for the medical needs in our county for many years, Simpson found time for volunteer work, including membership on the Sterling College Board of Trustees, with the fire department, for serving on the City Council, for volunteering at the Kansas Statehouse, for accepting leadership positions in professional organizations, for leading the charge to create a local day care facility and, even to the time of his death, leading the Rice County Habitat for Humanity affiliate. He and wife, Linda, both have exemplified the volunteer ethic for many years. Tom and Anna Marie truly define the term “a life well-lived.”

All of us, in our lifetime, for good or for ill, leave a mark in our community. Somehow, it seems to me, those who volunteer leave a special mark, one which is difficult to erase. Certainly, the notion that our faith can be demonstrated by our works takes on special meaning as we consider the efforts of those who volunteer. The willingness to expend effort without monetary compensation for the benefit of our fellow man is a characteristic of high order. It is truly a “point of light.”

Jack Wempe grew up in the Hutchinson area and is a former educator, state legislator and member of the Kansas Board of Regents now living in Lyons. Email: jwempe1@yahoo.com.