Janelle Hebbe, the American-Statesman's Volunteer of the Year, said she loves getting to know people and helping those in need. Laura Skelding/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
By Andrea Ball
To Janelle Hebbe, volunteering is a way of life.
The 67-year-old Pflugerville native makes quilts for children in Africa, takes frail seniors to the doctor, supports breast cancer fundraisers, spearheads multiple programs at Immanuel Lutheran Church, hosts meetings for senior citizens and ushers at the Austin Symphony. To her, it's not work, she said. It's routine.
"It keeps you going, keeps you alive," Hebbe said. "It gets you outside of yourself. It reminds you it's a big world out there and you're a part of that."
Hebbe is the winner of the American-Statesman's annual Volunteer of the Year contest, which honors Central Texans who spend time helping charities, churches and neighborhoods. This year's contest drew more than 70 nominations in six categories: faith, youth, social services, education, senior and neighborhood.
Hebbe, who was nominated in the faith category, was chosen as the overall winner because of the breadth, frequency and longevity of her volunteer work in the community.
"She certainly deserves it," said Beverly Wolff, a financial secretary at Immanuel Lutheran Church. "She's very dedicated and has an extreme amount of faith and is the most interesting person I've ever been around. She'll do anything."
Hebbe was raised on a Pflugerville farm, on which her father grew cotton, corn and other crops. Her mother was a registered nurse. Volunteer work wasn't an option, as both parents worked hard to support Hebbe and her sister.
Hebbe said she has more time to volunteer than some people because she is not married and has no children, so she's always tried to pitch in where it's needed. While working at the Travis County sheriff's office as a records supervisor, for example, she helped with the department's Brown Santa program.
When she retired in 1997, volunteering became an even bigger part of Hebbe's life. Today, her volunteer résumé is packed full of faith-related and secular projects.
Hebbe works with Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose efforts include putting together care packages for infants in developing countries. She coordinates Immanuel Lutheran Church's Tired and Retired group, which provides meals and activities for people in assisted living homes; helps assemble the church newsletter; and assists with vacation Bible school.
She volunteers as a secretary for the Heritage House Museum Partners and works with Faith in Action, which takes seniors to the doctor, grocery store or pharmacy.
The list goes on and on.
"She's very conscientious, a very nice lady," said Sherri Hoefling, office secretary at Immanuel Lutheran Church. "She does a lot."
But Hebbe, who spends her few spare moments square dancing or watching "The Young and the Restless," said she gets as much out of volunteering as she gives. She loves getting to know people and helping those in need, she said. And there's never a shortage of work to be done.
"I just can't understand when people say, 'I'm not going to retire because I don't know what do,'" she said. "I say, 'Come to me. I'll tell you what to do.'"
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