It didn't take much convincing to get retired Newton High School teacher Ken Franz involved with the Harvey County Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. Looking for something to do with his spare time, a simple request from his sister (Betty Rhine) led him to offer up his assistance.
"My sister asked me if I'd be interested and I said I'll give it a try, and that's where I'm at," Franz said, "...and it's good, it's fun."
Currently, Franz helps with two organizations in particular, volunteering his time at Newton Medical Center and the adjacent surgery center. At the former, he mans the front desk during one of three shifts, welcoming patients and lending whatever initial assistance they may need (i.e. providing a wheelchair). Beyond that, he also helps shuttle any needed information to hospital staff, directs visitors and gifts to guests' rooms and prepares the hospital's mail before it is sent out — trying to add to the generally supportive atmosphere that already exists.
"The thing that I'm impressed with at the surgery center and the hospital is how cordial and friendly and helpful all the employees are," Franz said. "It's amazing how everybody gets along and whenever you need help there's somebody there to help you. I'm really happy to see that."
At the surgery center, his role is similar to that at NMC, as he mans the front desk and waits with family members, friends and guests during the patients' procedures before being given clearance from nursing staff to allow them back into the patients' rooms.
Usually, Franz will volunteer about once a week — sometimes more, depending on his other commitments (he has also worked as a marshal at Sand Creek Station since its opening). Beyond that, he's also more than willing to step in and help fill other shifts as necessary.
"I'm on the volunteer list where if somebody needs a substitute, I'll get a call," Franz said. "If I'm available, I'll usually help 'em."
"He's the kind of guy that will just, if he's available, he'll come in at the last minute and fill in," added his sister, Rhine.
Taking on that extra responsibility has been a consistent with Franz through his life. While teaching industrial arts at his alma mater, he also served as basketball coach and assistant athletic director during his tenure in Newton. Even after retiring from education in 1994, he went on to work at both B & B Lumber and Graber's Hardware for several years and still helps out at Sand Creek Station once or twice a week (while also volunteering to help with the recent Summit League Tournament).
For his service at NMC, Franz was named this year's recipient of the Phoenix Award at the annual RSVP banquet held recently, an honor he is still trying to fully grasp.
"Sometimes you don't understand why a person gets an award when you feel like you're doing what everybody else does," Franz said. "I'm surprised. I didn't think that I did anything (more) special than anybody else, but for some reason I got it. I'm grateful for it."
Rhine was the one who nominated Franz, though she had a different award in mind for his willingness to help out whenever anyone is in a bind. She manages the schedule for front desk shifts at NMC and noted there have been times when Franz will work back-to-back shifts at the surgery center and NMC if someone is unable to come in at their scheduled time.
Mary Adams, RSVP coordinator, said Franz's genuine efforts illustrated personal strength and sacrifice that ultimately led the advisory council to honor him with the Phoenix Award.
While Franz admitted he sometimes gets questioned why he has made this commitment, and understands it is not for everyone, a simple desire has kept him going and he encourages anyone else interested to take that same leap.
"It may not suit some people. I know some people who've tried it and didn't like it, but to each his own," Franz said. "If you like to do something for people, want to keep busy or just don't want to lay around, I suggest everybody interested in it at least give it a try."