Volunteering has always played a big role in the lives of Wes and Karen Goehring. Although the Goehrings say they’re humbled by receiving the 2017 United Way of Weld County Humanitarian Award, their volunteerism and helping others throughout the years proved that they are the perfect couple to receive the prestigious award.
With Wes working in upper-level management at Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, NY, (from 1960-86) and relocating to the Kodak plant in Windsor, Karen didn’t know what to expect when moving to northern Colorado.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I ever dream an old girl from western New York would end up in the middle of the country in Greeley, Colorado,” Karen said. “It’s one of the best decisions we ever made. We have no regrets. Fifty two years of marriage. What can I say? It’s been a whirlwind. We’ve been here 39 years, and it seems like we came yesterday. People have been friendly and welcoming, and we’re very grateful for this opportunity.”
Two of those close friends, Norm and Bonnie Dean, received the United Way of Weld County Humanitarian Award in 2002 and are excited that Wes and Karen are part of the special club that began in 1989 when Kenneth W. Monfort was the first recipient.
“Throughout the many years we have known them, we have admired their way of quietly contributing to the betterment of Greeley and Weld County – with their treasure, but also with their time,” said Norm and Bonnie. “Whether it is driving a cancer patient to a treatment or making a quilt to raise funds for a worthy organization, Wes and Karen have been there, just going about the business of helping those who need it – and we deeply appreciate their gifts to the community.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Wes, 79, recalls driving cancer patients for medical appointments all the way to Denver, and his eyes light up when he talks about one of his most memorable experiences driving for Road to Recovery.
“The American Cancer Society was always looking for drivers who would be willing to drive cancer patients to the doctor or to other things when they weren’t able to do it themselves,” Wes said. “I made a promise with the office if you have somebody that’s going to go to Denver, it’s a long trip and I will take anyone that you give to me. I got to meet some really wonderful people. I enjoyed that. I felt that I was doing something good for others.”
The Goehrings moved to Colorado in 1979, and Karen said one of the first organizations they became involved with was United Way of Weld County.
“It was a small group. I believe there were two employees, and we’ve watched United Way grow over these years,” Karen said.
Wes noted that United Way of Weld County is currently servicing up to 100 agencies.
“These agencies impact the lives of one out of every four people in Weld County. It’s such an amazing combination with United Way to makes things happen,” Karen said.
VOLUNTEERING AS A GIRL SCOUT
Karen, 77, said her volunteer work began when she was a Girl Scout and her mother was one of the troop leaders.
“When my daughters (Betsy and Meg) became old enough, I was their leader and founded a troop for our youngest so that she could have some of the experiences I had,” Karen recalls. “I was an avid volunteer in my children’s proprietary school in Rochester, devoting many hours, not only as a classroom mother, but working on semi-annual fundraisers that enabled economically disadvantaged children to attend a college prep school. Higher education was a financial struggle for me. The high school faculty of my school selected me to be the recipient of their annual scholarship, making it possible for me to attend a small woman’s college, Keuka College, in the Finger Lakes of New York for two years.”
Karen said Keuka College emphasized community service through a six-week annual field period.
“The very first field period of our freshmen year, we were expected to do a volunteer job,” Karen said.
“After leaving Keuka, I worked in the personnel office of the research labs of Eastman Kodak where I met my husband,” Karen said. “I was one of 25 young women selected to represent the company at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, NY.”
Karen was the third woman invited to join Centennial Rotary in Greeley, and in 2001 was the second woman to be president.
“Through Rotary, I became involved with the Weld County Children’s Immunization Coalition (WCCIC). Participating on advisory committees and boards was rewarding, interesting and I learned a great deal,” Karen said. “However, the activities I enjoyed the most were helping the Shots for Tots program grow and become the organization it is today. When WCCIC became fully registered with the state, I was the first official president.”
Karen said she was honored by being recognized as its Volunteer of the Year, and was one of three (and the only non-health related) participant from Colorado invited to attend a coalition building conference/workshop in Norfolk, VA, sponsored by the Center for Disease and Prevention.
“I volunteered weekly at our granddaughter’s elementary school, helping the teachers with grading, filing and whatever else needed doing. I have tremendous respect for teachers. So much is asked of them,” Karen said. “It’s not why do I volunteer? It’s why doesn’t everybody volunteer? We all have a skill or a talent or an expertise to offer to make our community stronger.”
Karen has been a member of P.E.O. Chapter I for 32 years, completing a two-year term as president in March 2017.
“This organization has provided me with friendships and the opportunity to help other women achieve their educations and fulfill their dreams,” she said.
Karen said she believes in volunteering because it makes her feel fulfilled, useful and it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s fun, I met wonderful people and learned a great deal,” Karen said. “We live in an amazing community and that is because of the effort so many people put in to make it this wonderful place to live. We have educational institutions, culture, art, music, great medical care, the best water in the country, parks, hiking trails and committed community advocates who work together to make this happen. I believe that we all leave a little something of ourselves that makes a difference in our small corner of the world. I hope that what I leave makes a good difference.”
SHARING TALENTS TO HELP OTHERS
Wes first got involved with volunteering while in high school. Wes said volunteering gives him a good feeling.
“There is so much more to life when you share your talents and resources by helping others who work hard to make a better life and just need a little help or encouragement now and then,” said Wes, who was born in Wexford, PA., before moving to Clearwater, FL, as a young boy.
Wes graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio and majored in chemistry and biology.
“I was employed 26 years with the Eastman Kodak Company, first in Rochester, then at Windsor (in materials management),” Wes said. “Taking advantage of an early retirement opportunity, my wife and I subsequently ventured into health club ownership and development (Work Out West Fitness & Tennis Club in Greeley) for the next 15 years, before selling the club in 2001.”
Wes has actively enjoyed volunteering in a number of community activities, including multiple terms on the boards of the Aims Community College Foundation (past president), the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra Association (past president), Greeley/Weld Chamber of Commerce (past vice-president), the Mountain States Division of the Better Business Bureau (past president/chairman), and the United Way of Weld County (past campaign chairman). He has been a member of the Greeley Rotary Club since 1986, and currently serves on the Investment Committee of the Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County.
Wes said being the campaign chairman for United Way of Weld County in 1985 was a great challenge. (He was also assistant campaign chairman in 1984.)
“You’re working each year to try and be more successful and accomplish the best that you can do. I would say we’ve been very successful in that,” Wes said.
Karen said the hours that go into being the campaign chairman for United Way is incredible.
“The people you work with, the staff that helps you, is just an amazing experience,” she said. “I’m very proud of him. My husband is the man I admire the most. His honesty, his integrity, his truthfulness, his dependability, his sense of responsibility … he would be my best role model.”
Wes said when arriving in Greeley, volunteering was a way to get to know a lot of people.
“We could turn around and do for others. There is a great feeling of satisfaction when giving something back to your community,” Wes said. “The challenges are taking limited resources and making them work for the greater good. There is a personal satisfaction. I do believe that in volunteering you get rewards because you know that you’ve done something that is meaningful to other people.”
PROUD OF THEIR TWO DAUGHTERS
“We have two amazing daughters. Meg is associate professor of art history at New Mexico State University. Betsy has worked at United Way of Weld County for 25 years in a variety of capacities and is currently the marketing coordinator,” said Karen who also beams with pride when talking about their granddaughters Dorothy, Emma and Lindsay. “We’re very proud of both our daughters. They’re smart, they’re kind and they’re nice. We’re very appreciative of the opportunities that United Way has given Betsy to improve her skills and her talents, and she has shared those skills with other organizations in town.”
Meg said one of the big reasons why she’s a college professor today with a Ph.D. is that as a girl born in the late 1960s, she was encouraged to be anything she wanted to be.
“This sounds like a cliché, but believe me, for a 4, 5, and 6-year old and beyond to have your mother or father just casually say in conversation, “Well, when you are a doctor…” or “when you are president…” you really do grow up thinking anything is possible, despite what you may see around you, or what is portrayed in the media.”
Meg said that she’s amazed that her parents let her be an exchange student at 15, in the age before internet and cell phones.
“I think we talked all of three times my entire three months in Germany,” Meg said. “But this freedom fueled a passion for travel that I continue to have to this day, a passion that has now brought one granddaughter to live in France and most recently volunteer for three months in Greece working with refugees, and a second granddaughter to plan on semester-abroad trips herself.”
Meg said her parents’ generosity stands out.
“We are infinitely grateful to their generosity, from offering David (Meg’s husband) a home for two years as he worked on his doctorate, to helping with various and sundry college tuitions and ambitious internship plans,” Meg said. “I can’t begin to list the myriad of ways they have supported us through the years and continue to do so.”
Betsy said her parents have always taught her to think of others before herself.
“They live that way every day and I grew up watching that and learning how important it is to help others. I wouldn’t be working at United Way of Weld County if it weren’t for my Dad saying: ‘You don’t have to get a job, but you need to do something, go help someone, go to United Way and volunteer.’ Twenty-five years later here I am still at United Way helping people and teaching my daughter how important it is to help others in need.”
Betsy said her parents are the most loving and wonderful parents anyone could ask for.
“We grew up knowing we could do or be anything we wanted to be and they would support us no matter what – even when that meant doing ‘nothing’ for a few years. I know I scared them more than a few times with my antics, but deep down inside they knew I was a good person and just spreading my wings the only way I could at the time. I’ve grown from a young, crazy, not so responsible teenager to a responsible adult and mother. I’m still a bit crazy but…the apple doesn’t fall too far from the mom tree. When we moved to Greeley in 1979, I thought my parents had lost their minds, but my dad’s joy for the West and excitement for showing us why he loved it here was contagious. We would jump in the motor home and travel all around Colorado those first few years. It helped me to accept and appreciate Greeley and turn it into the home that I still love today. I still love getting in the car for road trips. It’s even more fun when my Dad’s with me.
“Mom – well what can I say about my mom – she is awesome, amazing, loving and crazy. We have so much fun together. She is the light of our family, the crazy glue that keeps us together. She is serious and quiet one moment and dancing on the table the next. My friends didn’t believe me when I told them to watch out or my mom would get up on the table and start dancing…until she did it! True story!
“They care so much about us. My daughter and nieces are the light of both mom’s and dad’s world. My mom’s bumper sticker said it all: “If I’d known grandchildren were this much fun, I would have had them first.”
As for being recipients of the 2017 Humanitarian Award, Betsy said the award is extremely special.
“What they have done over the years for this community, my family, their friends, people they don’t know…the list goes on and on. I’m so proud to be their daughter and I’ve been so lucky to have parents like them,” Betsy said. “The first time that I got to work with them through United Way was in 1996 when the Olympic Torch came through Greeley. It was a huge event and they were in charge of the route. At the time, they owned Work Out West and were both working full time there. I was putting in 11, 12 hour days at United Way for the event, but that was my job. They were putting in full days at Work Out West and then another three or four hours working on the event. The dedication and joy they both put into making the torch relay a success was amazing to watch and made my long days not seem so long. It was that event that made me realize that where I was working and what I was doing was the right fit for me and where I needed to be.”
As for receiving the Humanitarian Award from United Way of Weld County, Karen said: “We’re very humbled to be honored by receiving the Humanitarian Award. There are so many hundreds of people that we feel are far more deserving than we are. We’re just very humbled and appreciative. Thank you very much, United Way.”
Wes and Karen have chosen to designate the proceeds of the Tillers Club Reception wine auction to United Way of Weld County’s Weld’s Way Home, a county-wide initiative to help prevent and end homelessness in Weld County.
“Housing is a very basic need … clothing, food, housing,” Karen said. “We recognize that homelessness is a problem throughout the United States and throughout the world and in Weld County. We see this as such a basic need. How can you expect to grow into a productive person who can give back to his or her community, if you don’t have a decent house to go home to? You can feed people. You can clothe them. You can educate them. But decent housing is a necessity in our eyes. We like what United Way of Weld County is doing in advocating and coordinating the efforts of other organizations that are helping to provide this need in Weld County. We’re very excited that United Way has chosen to become a part of the initiative to provide affordable and decent housing for the citizens in our county who need it and who deserve it.”