Betsy Biesenbach special at the Roanoke Times
Since 1971, ministries in the Roanoke area have worked with local churches and businesses to select aid seekers, ensuring their funds are well spent.
In addition to the Emergency Financial Assistance Program, which is supported by the Roanoke Times Good Neighbors Fund, the agency also operates a homeless wardrobe and a day shelter, which offers a hot lunch. free every day of the year to anyone. need a meal.
The program relies heavily on church and community volunteers to work in the kitchen and dining room, freeing up staff to work with the financial aid program.
Once a month for over 30 years, a volunteer has come forward whose face and name may appear familiar to longtime readers of this newspaper. George Kegley, 92, was a reporter for the area’s morning newspaper – The Roanoke Times – from September 1949 to May 1993, when he merged with his brother and afternoon competitor Roanoke World -News.
On a damp early September afternoon, Kegley sat on the expansive front porch of his historic Roanoke home and joked that if he’d shown up on the morning of his hire day, he probably would have worked. instead for the World-News – an evening publication that had already been sent to the press on his arrival.
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Kegley was born in Wytheville and came to the Roanoke Valley when he enrolled at Roanoke College, which his three sons also attended. He had never really considered a career in journalism, he said, but he enjoyed working for the college newspaper – an extracurricular activity that would define the course of his life and would come in handy when he did. would be enlisted to serve in the Korean War. Instead of being sent overseas, he said, he spent his time at Fort Knox, where he was assigned to writing press releases.
While he was working, Kegley said, he didn’t have much time to volunteer, but he gave blood for 50 years. That totaled 156 gallons – although he said that amount may have been inflated because he has only donated plasma for the past 10 years, and those donations are counted twice.
This “not much” also included writing the journal of the West Virginia Historical Society for over 60 years, while at the same time editing the Virginia Lutheran Magazine. One of his other long-term commitments was the pantry and clothes closet run by his church, St. Mark’s Lutheran. When he retired, Kegley said, “I said I was going to do some reading,” but instead, “my volunteer work took off. “
He has organized camping trips for downtown children, delivered meals to homes, worked with refugee families and with the Pastoral Counseling Center, served on the board of directors of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, founded the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation and created a conservation easement on his 116-acre farm. He volunteered for the Roanoke Rescue Mission and is also the go-to person for anyone with questions about Roanoke’s history.
His wife, Louise, who died in 2018, “spent all her time answering the phone for me,” he said.
Kegley was familiar with RAM and its mission, he said, because St. Mark’s is one of its member congregations. A few years before his retirement, “I just started going there,” he said. After a few months of working in the dining room preparing utensils, pouring drinks and cleaning, he said that “it has become a habit”. And when the charity needed a Lutheran on the board, he said, he volunteered to serve on it for five years.
Geralyn Trellue, Director of Development and Head of Volunteers at RAM, said Kegley “served for many years in the dining room at RAM House, always greeting guests with a genuine smile. George has a way of making you feel welcome and appreciated. Her kindness and empathy are attributes that I admire so much.
Kegley has often compared volunteering to quicksand because it sucks people in and it’s hard to get out of it. But “there are so many needs,” he said. “There is a sense of accomplishment that comes with helping people. “
It’s easy to burn out in volunteer work, of course, he said, “but when there’s something to be done, you just do it.”
As for RAM programs, “it is a necessary service,” he said. Many of the shelter’s clients are not homeless, but rather have mental health issues that prevent them from supporting themselves. Others have physical issues and arrive with walkers and wheelchairs, he said. Many of them are regulars. Guests often thank him, Kegley said, and they usually stand in line for a few seconds, especially when the food – much of which is donated by restaurants – is particularly good. “The word is getting out pretty quickly,” he said.
Kegley had to stop working at RAM in March due to COVID-19 restrictions, when the kitchen began handing out bagged lunches. Without the pandemic, he said, he would still be working on it once a month, as usual. Now he said, “I’m stuck at home.
Until about a year ago, he says, he mowed his own lawn and made cider using an old wine press he had on his property, but his legs no longer cooperate. These days, he said, he’s finally finding time to tackle the reading he planned to do when he retired almost 30 years ago.