Top citizen aims to spread spirit of volunteerism

Duane Hicks

Both honoured and humbled to be named as the town’s 22nd “Citizen of the Year,” Diane Maxey is taking the opportunity in the spotlight to encourage others to volunteer and help keep the community vital.
“When I was first approached late last week and told my name had been chosen, I did not want to accept it,” Maxey admitted yesterday after her name officially was announced by Mayor Roy Avis at Monday night’s regular council meeting.
“It was explained to me that no one receiving this honour had ever found it easy to accept,” she noted.
“After a long session of convincing, I decided to accept it on the condition that it would give me an opportunity to explain how vital volunteering is to our community and surrounding area.”
Maxey has a long history of organizing and directing choirs and other musical projects in Fort Frances, including school choirs during her days as a teacher, a community children’s and adult choir, the ever-popular Christmas cantata, and, in the past couple of years, the Rainy Lake Ringers handbell group.
She joked that she’s been told her entire life to learn to say “No” when it comes to volunteering, but she’s found it “impossible to utter” that one word.
“If someone needs assistance and I have the time, I’m there without hesitation,” Maxey remarked. “I truly have been blessed with some wonderful friends who have always been my biggest support.”
Maxey admitted she has strived to keep herself even more busy since her husband, Jim, passed away five years ago. But she also reminds herself of his advice to look after herself, and believes she still has his support in whatever she does.
And what she does, she just can’t stop doing.
“When I am out there with all my choirs and sharing the joy of music, that gives me ultimate pleasure,” Maxey enthused. “To see our audiences smile and make positive comments about our performances is an absolutely amazing feeling.
“My life and my heart are so full.
“The people I work with in each of my groups are very special,” she continued. “For example, many have been in my community choir for over 20 years and what a thrill it is for me to see them return, as well as new faces coming on board each year.
“We, as a group, are obviously doing something right.”
Encouraging others to step up as volunteers, Maxey said commitment, and follow-through, is key to making events successful and not letting one’s team down.
But if those qualities aren’t a problem, Maxey felt everyone should try their hand at helping out.
“If you are contemplating the idea of volunteering in some capacity, possibly not tried before, go for it,” she stressed.
“There is no feeling in the world that can compare to the satisfaction you will receive personally when you take the volunteering plunge.”
Bill Gushulak (“Citizen of the Year 2000”), who sat on the selection committee along with Mark Kowalchuk (“Citizen of the Year 1994”), Mayor Roy Avis, and deputy mayor Sharon Tibbs, said the decision to choose an honouree from among the nearly two dozen applications this year wasn’t an easy one.
“It was a very difficult decision because there were several very, very good candidates who were all deserving,” he noted.
“But we all felt Diane was dedicated to a cause and covered a good cross-section of the community in all the volunteering she does.
“Her music sort of touches different age levels, and we felt it would provide an incentive to all age groups to become involved in volunteering,” added Gushulak.
“We have people who do a tremendous among of volunteering and others who might think the little bit they do isn’t important.
“But if everybody does a little bit, it really benefits the community in many ways and benefits the individuals, as well,” he stressed.
“That’s sort of where we went with it. We felt it was time to recognize an individual who touched a variety age levels and groups.”
While Maxey probably is best known for directing choirs, she also has been active with events and causes ranging from the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship to the Terry Fox Run to the community Christmas dinner to the recent fundraiser benefit for local resident Mike Freeman.
“When you look at what she does, and you think her plate must be absolutely full, all of the sudden you turn around and see, oh, she’s involved with the bell ringers or she’s trying to raise funds for something different,” said Gushulak.
“I think she’ll do a marvelous job representing the community,” he added. “It’s good to recognize her, and at the same as we’re recognizing her, we’re recognizing many of the other individuals who are members of the groups she’s involved with.
“For example, members of the cantata are volunteers in their own way, too.
“They technically get a chance to share this with Diane, and I think that’s probably what Diane wants it to be,” Gushulak reasoned.
“She seems to generate enjoyment from being involved and never seems to be discouraged by anything, just keeps rolling. I admire her for that,” he continued.
“For many years, I have admired her for that, and now that her name came forward, it was her time.”
Gushulak also noted that aside from her leadership skills and musical talent, Maxey is quick to applaud good deeds in the community.
“If there’s something that needs to be recognized, there will be a letter to the editor, signed by Diane Maxey, commending somebody for doing something,” he said.
“To offer encouragement to other people who have done . . . good things for the community, that need to be brought to the forefront a little bit, she helps to do that.”
The town will officially honour Maxey at its annual appreciation banquet a week from Friday (Nov. 20).
After that, she will be asked to appear in the annual “Parade of Lights” on Nov. 28 and next year’s Canada Day parade.
A total of 23 applications for “Citizen of the Year,” including some for the same nominees, were submitted by the Oct. 30 deadline.
Gushulak stressed only one nominee can be chosen each year, and encouraged those who submitted names of those other than Maxey this year should do so again in the future.