Student inspires volunteerism

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Lois Whitaker, completing her studies at Corban University, is a busy student. She works as a volunteer at Dallas Retirement Village, one mile from her home, organizing volunteers who can be “ride along” companions for medical trips. This fulfills her independent study requirements for the Adult Degrees program she is in, which includes 110 volunteer hours.

“I went on one ride-along with a resident of the retirement village,” Whitaker said. “She’s 95 years old, and I went along on her visit with the eye doctor. She’s a sharp little lady — up on all the latest news.”

This volunteer project, helping and encouraging those who are older, doesn’t seem out of the ordinary — except for the fact that Whitaker herself is 81 years young.

Whitaker began the university chapter in her life as a widowed, 80-year-old woman. “I thought about the things in my life I still wanted to accomplish,” she said. “It has always been my desire to complete my bachelor’s degree, and I decided this was as good a time as any.”

Right out of high school, Whitaker nearly completed two years of higher education at Linfield College. Then she worked, and in 1952, at the age of 23, she married Harold Whitaker. In 1960, she and her husband started a new business, The Decorated Wall, a store that sold wallpaper and window coverings in Dallas, Ore. After seven years, they sold the business to a daughter and her husband.

Their family of five daughters grew to include their daughters’ husbands, 13 grandchildren and their spouses and five great grandchildren. Whitaker was widowed four years ago, after caring for her husband through a long bout with cancer.

Whitaker’s granddaughter Katie Palmer said, “Granny is amazing! After Papa died, she could have just given up on life, but she has instead decided to start a new life: continuing her education, taking family trips and creating memories for us that will last a lifetime.”

Granddaughter Angela Palmer says her granny’s decision to finish her degree came as a surprise, but it fits her adventurous spirit. “Finishing her degree fits right in with her getting a Jeep; a Netflix subscription, and wanting to parasail on our Mexican cruise last summer.”

Whitaker’s knowledge of the computer, before entering the psychology program at Corban, was “playing games and email,” she said. After starting the program, she took two computer classes — “to get more knowledge.”

Granddaughter Alexa Winters lives in the same town as Whitaker. Some days they share coffee or lunch, and “we’ll do homework together.” Five of Whitaker’s grandchildren are in college, and one is in graduate school, studying for his master’s degree. A son-in-law graduated from Corban in 1990, and two granddaughters are graduates of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

“They [the grandchildren] keep encouraging me,” Whitaker said. “That was part of the challenge: if I could do it, they could do it.”

In July, Whitaker will finish the requirements for her psychology program but will be a few credits short of the total number required for graduation. She will complete those requirements and participate in graduation ceremonies in May 2011.

Karen Pederson, director of resident programs at Dallas Retirement Village, is looking forward to even more volunteers as Whitaker continues to visit with area churches and organizations to attract more help. In addition to working with the retirement home, Whitaker motivates local church members to volunteer in areas such as parenting, visiting other retirement homes, etc.

And she continues doing what she does: being an example and encouragement to those around her, including family, friends and classmates. This woman, who is such an inspiration to her granddaughters, just might be the inspiration and encouragement others need as well.

Angela Palmer notes her grandmother “has left a legacy of hospitality, prayer, kindness and generosity.”

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