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By Jesse Utz 

The tradition of volunteering

Jess Shut Up


Someone recently asked me, “Why should I volunteer?” After I answered the question and had more time to let the question really soak in, I wondered why some people give their time openly and easily while others drag their feet to help out. So I reflected back on why I volunteer.

I remember my father was always volunteering at the Moose Lodge, helping with the Christmas traditions they had. The Christmas party for kids of the area at the Moose Lodge was a big deal back then. I also remember my mom bringing me to Bingo, not to play, but to help serve food to the players. So maybe, that’s how it got planted in my heart.

As I grew up, I saw others in the community that seemed to be giving a lot of time to the community. Gary Reit is the first to jump to my mind. I don’t know all he did, but I know he did a lot for our Coulee Country and I know he was a driving force in the chamber of commerce, as was Dave Schmidt. It always seemed Dave was at everything and doing everything. Now I imagine him sitting on his boat in Hawaii, sipping a cocktail, and listening to Stevie Nicks as he soaks up the sun. But he is probably helping his neighbor fix their roof or sharing some financial advice with a stranger.

As I got a little older, a more impactful event happened in my life and opened my eyes to the local fire departments, and as a senior in high school I joined Grand Coulee Volunteer Fire Department.

It changed my life. At the time it was just something to do, but it ended up giving me a career field. That’s where I met the volunteers George Kohout, Rick Paris, Diane Canady, Benny Alling, Ted Jenn, Dean McPherson and many others.

I also learned of the strong tradition of volunteering in the area. Many of the retired firefighters were also the founding fathers in the cities. The same names could be read in the city halls and on plaques in buildings across the area. A sense of pride welled up as serving the community grew into a passion and a desire to help others. I wanted my name to be thought of and talked about the same way these men and women talked about the men and women beside whom they’d had the privilege of serving. Of course, now I know that none of those volunteers from the past had planned on being local heroes. They just simply wanted to help.

As I got older, others emerged in different areas, still wanting to help others. Del Ostenberg, and Chick and Denny Jackson, seemed to be helping everyone in the Nespelem and the surrounding area. Del may look scary at times, but his heart is as big as a mountain and I have literally seen him give the shirt off his back to someone in need. The Jacksons did more behind the scenes for people than we will probably ever know.

Rod Hartman was part of the backbone of Coulee Dam long before I even came around and was still going strong then. Ray Halsey was mayor of Electric City then and was as far back as I can remember. He was the definition of giving your life to a community.

There were others who seemed to be everywhere all the time. Dr. Monteagudo, Chris and Wes Seylor, Scott Hunter, Birdie Hensley, The Carlson Family, Merv Schimdt, Susan Miller, Fern Blaylock, Jerry Beierman and Dave Portch to name a few. There are many, many others and I know I am forgetting some big names. Sorry.

Now is the time for you. Yes, you. There are many ways in the area to volunteer. There will be many events this year and opportunities to give your time. You can always ask me, or contact the Lions Club, Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Grand Coulee School District, Eagles Lodge, Food Bank and Senior Center just to name a few. You can also ask the local churches, who always know of families in need.

I look forward to seeing you out there, serving others side by side. I’m just saying.

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