In their 80s, couple has set new standards for volunteering

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2008 Healthcare Heroes
Steve & Mary Link
Volunteer Work

Steve and Mary Link have taken Bishop's Commons at St. Luke by storm, doing just about everything in their power to make obsolete the definition of "retirement."

After moving into the retirement community in 2007, Mary began leading a "reflections" and arts and crafts programs each week. Meanwhile, Steve started a woodworking program for residents. He also built a step stool to help residents access the community's bus "While they are residents, their desire to remain active and involved in life in their new community remains in tact," says Karen Murray of St. Luke. "The altruism of Mary and Steve and their varied community involvement for 30 years elevates their service to a level that is not easily achieved."

Old habits die hard for the Links—both former General Electric employees—who have been active in the community and at St. Luke for the last 30 years. The pair was an instrumental part of establishing the Oswego Human Concerns Center, a charitable organization still in operation today. They worked with local food pantries and organizations like Oswego County Opportunities and Cornell Cooperative Extension to help provide for the basic needs of the county's poorest residents. They were also involved with the local chapter of RSVP.

One particularly ambitious project had the Links designing an entire miniature golf course over the course of two summers for a campground. Another had Steve and Mary answering "wish lists" from retirement communities wherein they would craft items requested by residents.

"I met Steve and Mary in 1996 when I began working as the volunteer coordinator for St. Luke Health Services," says senior living coordinator and former Health Care Hero nominee Julie Chetney. "Today, in 2008, Steve, now 88 years old and Mary, 86, continue to volunteer doing all of the programs I remember from years ago and much more."

The couple describes their outlook as young and their volunteering experience as having helped them prepare for life in assisted living. Steve says he'd recommend volunteering at senior living facilities to all recent retirees, in part to take the fear and stigma out of the transition when it comes later in life. "We're very well-adjusted," Mary says about their transition to community living. "Sometimes folks are angry about their situation. We didn't fight it. We're still able to volunteer and help people adjust." Their earlier volunteer efforts took them to almost every retirement community in the area, where they helped with entertainment, crafts and religious services.

Steve says he's surprised about his nomination, "We're thankful to the people we were able to serve," he says.

As generously as the couple has donated their time over the years, Mary says service comes with its rewards. "It all comes back to you double," she says. "I think people are much happier giving than sticking their head in the ground like an ostrich."
(By Chris Motola)