NEW CASTLE — When she saw members of her family filing into the New Castle Community Center Saturday afternoon, Virginia Erickson knew something was up.
Erickson was among more than 100 people gathered for the annual New Castle Volunteer Appreciation event to recognize volunteer organizations and their members.
Lee Price, director of the River Center, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance for those in need, emceed the event, the theme of which was “We’re In This Town Together.”
“When I did this event for the first time five years ago, I didn’t realize we had 25 different volunteer organizations in this town,” Price said. “Today is our way of saying thank you. Last year was the 125th anniversary of our town, and one thing I’ve noticed is just how many people have built this town and they give in so many ways.”
Erickson was initially called to come up and represent those who volunteer their services to seniors in the community, thinking that was why her family was there.
It wasn’t until a short time later when she was called up again that she learned she had been named New Castle’s Volunteer of the Year.
“I had no idea this was going to happen, but then all my family started showing up — my kids, my grandkids and my great-grandkids,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I just hope this [volunteerism] will continue in their life times.”
Erickson is a New Castle native who grew up on Fourth Street, where she still lives, and attended all her school years at New Castle High on Main Street.
“She was always kind-hearted and generous and never complained,” said Betty Arthur of LIFT-UP. “She has, at one time or another, volunteered for just about every club and cause in her community and still does.”
Erickson’s volunteer activities have included serving:
• On the Town Council from 1989 to 2000, including terms on the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission;
• As a member and key volunteer at the New Castle Historical Museum
• As a reading mentor at Kathryn Senor Elementary
• As an active advocate for seniors in New Castle and coordinator of the Senior Luncheon with her husband, Joe, at the River Center and the New Castle Senior Center
• As an emergency medical technician for the New Castle Volunteer Ambulance Service
She was recognized on March 17, 2004, in the United States Congress by Rep. Scott McInnis as the 2003 Garfield County Humanitarian of the Year for all of her voluntary contributions.
Erickson is also an active member of the New Hope Church in New Castle.
“Virginia Erickson is soft-spoken, faithful, yet tenacious when it comes to her community,” Pastor Eddie Piker of New Hope Church wrote about her. “Virginia is one of the steady lights of our community, reflecting Christ’s love with her gentle manner, consistent service to others and constant love for Jesus.”
Various groups were recognized, including the 300-400 volunteers at the River Center; the volunteers with the New Castle branch of the Garfield County Public Library system; the Historical Society; the Garden Club; the Downtown New Castle Design Project; the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts; LIFT-UP; and the New Castle Lions Club.
A special proclamation was also read by Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Leland in honor of former longtime Glenwood Post and Glenwood Springs Post Independent photographer Kelley Cox for her talents and coverage of New Castle’s people and events over the past 16 years.
The New Castle Volunteer Appreciation Day, which was a joint effort between the town of New Castle and the Volunteer New Castle organization, started out with a large buffet of burgers and bratwursts, salads, side dishes, cookies and pies. It was originally scheduled to be a picnic in Burning Mountain Park, but ominous-looking weather moved the party indoors.
But the festivities were all about the people in New Castle who have made the town what it was and what it is today.
“New Castle’s greatest asset is the people,” summed up Mayor Bob Gordon. “We might not have a Cabella’s or a Walmart, but we have the best people right here in New Castle. A lot of things have changed in this town, but one thing that never changes is the people. And we have volunteers who do it because they love the town.”