West Newton Friends In Service -- Dale Graves
We regularly feature the work of one of West Newton Friends making a difference in our community. We’re all involved in different ways and sometimes we don’t realize the ministries we're doing in locally and around the world.
This article features the volunteer work of Dale Graves.
“Dale, would you be willing to write an article about your volunteer activities for the newsletter?” That was the question from Lynn, our newsletter editor. I tried to weasel out of it, but here I am. It feels a little weird, writing this, sort of like bragging about myself. But when I think about the activities I’ve been involved in, and how much fun they were, I agreed to write.
I was a high school teacher for almost 40 years. During that time, I would often tell people that I didn’t have time to volunteer because of my commitment to all the aspects of my job. But as I was reviewing that period in my life, I realized that I was wrong. I was already volunteering in many ways. Track practice started at the end of the school day and was over about 4:30. But staying after that to help one athlete get in extra work on the hurdles or a particular aspect of the discus throw, well, that was volunteering. That was also the time when I would discover that I was getting to know the student better than I could during the larger group activities.
Sitting around after cross-country practice waiting for a mom or dad to come pick up their young athlete was definitely volunteer time. Sometimes I was anxious to get on home to dinner and family but when I took the time to visit with the student we would extend our relationship from coach-athlete to friend-friend.
Building a homecoming float with a bunch of students is quite an experience. Showing someone how to cut a board to the correct length and nail it in place and then discover that the design we had worked on wasn’t going to work, backing up and starting over, was always a learning experience. Being able to do those things with a good attitude was an even bigger learning experience, both for me and for the students. Float building is one of those wonderful times that continue to be a highlight of my volunteer activities while I was a teacher. And homecoming day, when we revealed our creation to the world and drove it in the homecoming parade was a source of pride for all of us. And yet it was the building of a relationship with the students that was really the crux of it all.
I retired from teaching in 2007. There had been opportunities to volunteer that I had not been able to participate in while I was teaching and one of the first was a short-term trip to Cuba. Cuba Yearly Meeting had been driven underground when the revolution happened but in the 90’s Castro opened up the opportunity for religious visits to the Island.
While we were there we had a two-fold purpose, to do whatever work project was available, and to visit with and encourage Friends in Cuba. Our work project on this trip was to dig and pour the footers for a building that would attach to the meetinghouse in Holguin. We dug holes in the ground at regular intervals that were 3 ft by 3 ft by 3 ft, trying to get down to solid soil. After the holes were dug, we poured a solid 12” base in the hole and then formed a 12” by 12” post in each one. It was a construction technique that I was not familiar with at the time but have seen now in Jamaica, Cuba, and Belize and is quite effective for hurricane proof buildings.
During the digging I got to know some American Friends that I did not know before. Megan Christopher and Margaret Fraser have been good friends ever since. And I got to know Connie Robertson and Jim Crew better than I could have in any other way. Connie and Jim had been on work teams to Cuba before and were able to give a little historical perspective. I also got to know Richard and Odalys and some other Cubans who worked alongside us and we have been able to stay in touch through Facebook.
During that trip we traveled to several different meetings and did what we could to encourage them as they rebuild the Quaker presence on the island. What a wonderful experience.
Another opportunity that I had after retirement was to become active in Friends Disaster Service. This is a group of Quakers who help reconstruction projects after natural disasters. I have helped rebuild two homes in Columbus, Indiana (flooding), two different homes in Kokomo (tornado), and a rural home in southern Indiana (a tree fell on it), and a total home rebuild in Kansas (tornado). There is no better way to express the love of God than to do construction work with a like-minded group of guys. There is no better expression of the Quaker way than to tell jokes while hanging drywall.
Shortly after we published this article, Dale was presented with a Lifetime Eliza Armstrong Cox award for his involvement in missions for many years, including his recent involvement in Belize, and his efforts to revive Quaker Men International. Dinah Geiger, President of the WYM USFW presented Dale with the award at West Newton Friends on Sunday, June 17. Western Yearly Meeting Clerk, Sarah Lookabill was also in attendance.
Congratulations on this well deserved honor, Dale!