Retirement redefined: Local seniors serve vital role as school volunteers

The children often call out for “grandpa” and “grandma” as Wil and Betty Bonine walk through the halls at Rum River Elementary School.

Betty Bonine works with a Rum River Elementary School, Andover, kindergartner to complete a project for Father’s Day. Photo by Kelly Johnson
Betty Bonine works with a Rum River Elementary School, Andover, kindergartner to complete a project for Father’s Day. Photo by Kelly Johnson

They are titles that make the pair smile and further foster their desire to volunteer in the Andover school.

The Bonines give up one morning each week helping students improve their reading and math skills, playing games or helping out with special projects.

It’s time the Bonines have come to cherish in the 11 years the Fridley couple have been volunteers in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

The volunteering connection was made following the Bonines’ visit on a grandchild’s grandparents day event at the former Sorteberg Elementary School in Coon Rapids.

While there, Wil and Betty discovered the teacher needed some volunteer help. So they started helping out that teacher, then another and yet another.

“The requests came in,” Betty said.

The Bonines are not unlike many other older volunteers in the school district.

According to Sue Archbold, District 11 volunteer services supervisor, during the 2010-2011 school there were 718 volunteers age 55 and older in the district. That’s about 7 percent of the total volunteers.

“I don’t think there’s one school that doesn’t have a senior come and volunteer for them,” Archbold said.

Filling a need

These senior volunteers do a wide variety of tasks from shelving books in the library to chaperoning field trips to reading with students.

They also help out in the office, work with family and consumer science students and conduct vision and hearing screenings.

“They just do a little bit of everything in the schools,” Archbold said.

Some of these volunteers are still working and give of their time during evenings and weekends, helping out at school carnivals and other events.

“They are just real active people,” Archbold said.

According to Archbold, the number of older volunteers in the district is growing.

While many have grandchildren at the school where they volunteer, countless others – like the Bonines – just want to be involved in the community.

“I think it’s a real welcoming environment for seniors in our schools,” Archbold said.

Making a connection

After volunteering in various schools throughout the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the Bonines have called Rum River Elementary their volunteer home for the past seven years.

They have no grandchildren in or connection to the school other than their love of helping children learn and be successful.

“We love it,” Betty said.

Wil jokes that at age 77, he’s still in kindergarten, one of his favorite age groups to help.

“Little ones like that are so eager to learn,” he said with a smile.

Prior to volunteering in District 11 schools, Wil and Betty helped drive others to appointments and for Meals on Wheels.

“This is our favorite,” Betty said.

Neither Wil nor Betty have a background in education, although Wil did help juveniles with reading while working in corrections.

“We all teach in a way,” he said. “Education is so important.”

And while Wil and Betty help the students become better readers and mathematicians, it’s the students that also give back to their volunteers.

“It’s a win, win for all of us,” Betty said.

“We want them to get satisfaction to,” Archbold said about the volunteers.

Last school year, when Wil became ill and the couple couldn’t volunteer at Rum River, the students created a book with messages of encouragement for their adopted grandparents.

It was something wonderful and unexpected for the pair.

“We always say we have 608 grandchildren,” Betty says with a smile.

Kelly Johnson is at [email protected]