Though he wouldn’t tell you — he’s not one to brag — Al Harding, Washington, is one of the Washington Senior Center’s longest term volunteers.
With 20 years of service under his belt, “Big Al” Harding (his son is a junior, “Little Al”) said volunteering began as a way to get his wife out of the house when she was struggling with diabetes.
He and his wife, Sharon, began volunteering in 1994 as substitute delivery drivers for the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers meals to homebound senior citizens.
The couple enjoyed dropping off meals and chatting with some of the seniors who received the meals. While some received meals each day, others were only on the route for a few weeks or months.
Harding knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the volunteer work. When his wife had a stroke in 1996, the Hardings had meals delivered to their home for several years.
When his wife passed away in 2001, Harding began visiting the senior center daily, which was then located at the city auditorium. Today the senior center is located in the lower level of the Elks Hall, 1459 W. Fifth St.
He also continued to volunteer, doing all kinds of odd jobs.
“I guess you could say I’m a jack of all trades, but a master of none,” he said, laughing.
Now, Harding has several tasks he completes each day. In the morning, he counts money and takes it to the bank. Center rules state that two volunteers and the director all must count money before it can be deposited.
Harding leads the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer before lunch is served.
He then calls each of the table numbers for visitors to go get their meals.
“If not, we would have chaos,” Harding said.
Some days are spent behind the reception desk. Others, he helps clean up. Anything that needs to be done, Harding is willing to lend a hand.
He also serves as an unofficial electrician, said Debbie Steagall, senior center administrator.
“He takes care of our stereo system, our electronics, anything music wise, our TVs. . . ,” Steagall said.
“I have to have something to do or I’d go nuts,” Harding replied.
Sometimes, Harding will stick around after he finishes his duties to play cards or billiards.
“I’ve made a lot of friends over the years,” he said.
Harding is retired from the education system. He taught for 28 years at Washington Junior High School, now Washington Middle School.
Harding taught all subjects, but most of his time was spent teaching social studies.
In 1988, he retired from teaching public school, but became a “permanent substitute” at Heritage Christian School, which is now called Crosspoint Christian, in Villa Ridge.
He continued to substitute teach until 1993.
Harding serves as a deacon to First Baptist Church.
He is part of an Old Codgers group, in which men over 60 from two churches gather for potluck meals.
In his spare time, Harding collects reels of old television and radio programs. At one time, he had 33,000 radio programs on reels, though he has sold some and donated many others. He also enjoys watching movies and belongs to a club that trades movies back and forth.
Party to Honor Harding
Harding was the guest of honor at a party held Wednesday, March 12 at the Washington Senior Center. The party was to celebrate Harding’s 20 years with the senior center. He picked up more than a dozen pizzas to share with senior center visitors.
Few, though, knew it also was Harding’s 81st birthday.
“I’m officially 40. Every birthday since then is an anniversary of my 40th birthday,” he joked. “I’ll be 40 until I kick the bucket.”