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Patrick Springer, Published December 24 2011

Unsung heroes: Aging volunteers still lending a hand

MOORHEAD - The handyman volunteers for the Helping Hands Ministry like to work in teams of three.

“That way if one goes down, the other two can help him get up,” says Lloyd Paulson, 87, cracking a joke about the advanced age of the volunteers, all retirees ranging from 65 to 96.

The program, which fields a senior volunteer corps of about 30, is an outreach effort of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church here that started more than 20 years ago.

“People bring projects to me that need to get done,” says Janis Eidsness, director of children’s and volunteer ministries at Good Shepherd.

One of their biggest recent projects, in collaboration with Freedom Resources, involved building 20 or 30 wooden home access ramps for handicapped people in Moorhead.

“We have a bunch of people who are real crafters,” says Walter Stenson, still active at 94, one of the original eight volunteers.

Stenson, whose hobby is woodworking, recently built hymnal shelves for the church.

“It’s been a fun deal,” he adds. “It keeps you involved.”

The Helping Hands volunteers, all men, meet every Tuesday morning for fellowship and to discuss projects. They were recently treated to a holiday ham dinner, complete with eggnog.

The oldest member, Clifford Bjerke, 96, has hung up his hammer but remains involved.

“He’s our prayer warrior,” Eidsness says. “A lot of them have reached that stage.”

At 78, Ed Foss is one of the newer members. He’s a retired construction contractor and has helped organize projects with Wally Sowold, especially those involving concrete.

“He and I have been kind of co-chairmen of some of these projects,” Foss says. Those projects have involved a columbarium, playground and curb for the church at 4000 28th St. S.

“I have a lot of fun,” he adds. “I think that’s why we’re all here.”

Although Foss and Sowold have a background in construction, most have no professional experience to draw upon. Some are retired businessmen, for instance, and two are retired pastors.

“We have people from all walks of life here,” Foss says.

“They’re a very active group,” says Eidsness, whom Stenson called the “glue” that holds the Helping Hands program together. “I think this is what has kept them going.”

One volunteer who recently died, in fact, remains involved. The late Don Bjornstad bequeathed $5,000 to help with projects.

“He’s still helping out,” Eidsness says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522