Ann Konietzko learned early in life about the power and importance of volunteering.
“My dad was a night cop in town, in Brownton where I grew up,” Konietzko said. “It’s a small community, and so when there was a snowstorm or something, we usually had people staying at our house. We never knew who was going to be at our kitchen table to eat.
“Mom was always doing things like that, well, really both my parents were,” she said. “So I learned it from them.”
Konietzko has emulated her parents’ giving nature throughout her life, and on Friday, her commitment to helping others was recognized with the Senior Volunteer of the Year award during a ceremony at the Meeker County Fair.
“Ann, way to go, and congratulations,” said Amy Wilde, chairwoman of Meeker County Council on Aging, as she presented a framed certificate. “You’ve had years of great service…. We thank you very much for your service to the community.”
“Thank you very much; I feel honored,” Konietzko said, her eyes welling with tears.
The Senior Volunteer of the Year winners are chosen from people nominated by the public. Traditionally, the award is given to one woman and one man. However, no men were nominated this year, Wilde said. Konietzko’s name will be forwarded to the Minnesota State Fair, along with other senior volunteer award winners from around the state, and Minnesota’s Oustanding Senior Citizens will be announced Thursday, Aug. 29, during Seniors Day at the state fair.
Konietzko was chosen for the Meeker County award from a large group of nominees, Wilde said, based on a number of glowing nomination letters and comments the selection committee received.
“Some of the comments made by her nominators are, ‘We can always count on her when needed.’ ‘Her infectious smile, kind heart and positivity are so refreshing.’ ‘She considers listening one of her pastimes.’ ‘She has never missed an opportunity to be a servant to others.’ And, ‘She serves others willingly and with a smile,’” Wilde said.
Following the presentation, Konietzko returned to one of the comments by nominators, about the importance of listening.
“I feel like being a good listener is a lot, the main thing,” she said. “A lot of times, it’s the little things that you do that make a big different to people and families.”
Konietzko spent 15 years as a nurse at Meeker Memorial Hospital, followed by 24 years with Ecumen.
She and her husband, Don, who headed the radiology department at Meeker Memorial Hospital before his retirement, became involved with Ecumen Hospice. Ann has been a volunteer for 30 years, since the program’s inception.
“Ann has been a consistent, driving force behind the care given at Ecumen Hospice-Litchfield,” according to an Ecumen news release, under the headline “Hospice Volunteer Extraordinaire.” “She provides companionship, caregiver respite, and bereavement support to patients and families.”
In addition to the personal support, Konietzko is a regular in hospice fundraising efforts, creates prayer shawls and participates in community events.
The importance of hospice became even more personal when the Konietzkos’ daughter, Michelle Ferm, battled cancer and eventually entered Ecumen Hospice before her death in 2014.
“When you’ve gone through the situation like Don and I have with Shelly you see it,” she said. “Don and I were both involved with hospice for years. He was on the board for years. But we were on the other side.”
Despite her commitment to volunteering, especially with Hospice, some wonder about physical and psychological toll the countless hours put on Konietzko.
She chuckled when asked if it was difficult giving up so much for others.
“Don would probably say it starts at home,” she said. “But, no, not really. The hospice volunteer from the Cities for Ecumen asked, too. I listen to music, watch TV, crochet, that kind of calms me down some. I don’t feel like I’m ever burned out.
“I just feel when there’s a need, you need to go,” Konietzko concluded. “That’s what God put us on this Earth for, right?”