For this Community Recreation Center volunteering couple, helping others is a way of life
Ivan and Gerry Johansson have spent 32 years as a husband and wife volunteer team at the Apex Park and Recreation District’s Community Recreation Center, 6842 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, CO 80003. Between the two of them, they’ve donated 8,022 hours at the CRC. That works out to four years of work at a full-time job.
By any measure, this is a remarkable achievement, but for Ivan and Gerry, it’s just a normal, expected and joyful aspect of life in a community. “I can’t remember a time when we didn’t volunteer,” Gerry said.
The community of Arvada has benefited from their volunteer activities for about 50 years now-at the Community Recreation Center since 1983, and for many other organizations throughout their life here. The Johanssons moved to Colorado from Illinois for Ivan’s job, first living in Golden and then moving to Arvada. They’ve been married for 6 1/2 decades, a fact that emerged when they posed for a photo. “He’s been standing behind me for 65 years,” Gerry noted with a smile.
They quickly adopted the avid outdoor lifestyle that Colorado so abundantly supports, spending most weekends enjoying activities in the mountains. “In Colorado, you can never see it all,” Gerry said.
Later on, in their retirement years, Ivan and Gerry continued to travel around the state, as Ivan took on the responsibility of driving for CRC trips. “I drove the 15-passenger van for 25 years,” Ivan said. Gerry was also a regular participant in the trip program. Based on her enthusiastic, outgoing nature, she undoubtedly made the outings more fun for everyone, plus the couple got to travel to lots of new places. “There were lots of special trips, and we enjoyed them all,” Ivan said.
Ivan was reluctant to single out his favorite trips from 25 years of driving, but he did mention visits to places as diverse as Littleton’s Hudson Gardens and the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburga, in Virginia Dale near the Colorado-Wyoming border.
Gerry’s volunteer experiences began with the Crafty Seniors, a group that makes craft items from donated materials, which are then sold in the Craft Carousel Gift Shop and at the annual craft fair. The group then donates proceeds from sales to benefit special projects at the Center. In the past several years, they’ve supported a wide range of projects, including the new electronic sign out front, lobby and restroom improvements, and the sound system in McCormack Hall. The Crafty Seniors also donate their handmade items to Jefferson County residents in need at nursing homes, women’s shelters and more. “Whatever we can do to help other people-that’s what is important,” Gerry said.
Gerry later became active with the Craft Carousel Gift Shop, which opened soon after she and Ivan started volunteering at the CRC. You can find her there every Tuesday morning, working her regular shift that she’s had for many years.
The Craft Carousel is a unique combination of creativity and community service. The volunteer staff helps consignors sell their items in the shop, and part of the proceeds are donated to benefit Center projects. Last but not least, shoppers benefit by having a local store with handcrafted gifts for all occasions.
Ivan currently serves on the Senior Council, an appointed group of volunteers and participants helping to guide the Center’s programs and operations by providing input and direction. This valuable peer-centered viewpoint helps keep the CRC in touch with those it serves.
During the 32-year span of Ivan and Gerry’s service, things have changed around the CRC-all for the better, Gerry said. “The space is used very effectively now. In the beginning, there was no Craft Carousel, no exercise rooms…these days there is something for everybody.”
She describes the activities as “wonderful and reasonable,” but from her standpoint, the companionship is most important. She and Ivan both agree that it’s easy to make friends and find an activity at the CRC. They’ve participated in many programs over the years, including recent activities such as tai chi. “It’s important to be active in a community, and also to keep moving,” Gerry said.
When Ivan and Gerry talk about the family aspect of the CRC, they include the staff. “They are the tops,” Ivan said. What makes them special is their willingness to help, no matter what the task. “Whether you need an answer, or a ladder, or help finding something, they’re on hand right away,” Gerry said.
Helping others is a way of life for Ivan and Gerry. Both grew up with a strong community-service philosophy: never turn away someone in need of help. And if anyone at the CRC needs help, as far as Gerry is concerned, “We’re there for them. All they have to do is ask.”
Many thanks to the Johanssons for their decades of volunteerism at the Community Recreation Center. Each month, the Center hosts and informational meeting on volunteer opportunities. If you’d like to be a part of the vital and energetic volunteer community there, call 303-425-9583.