After Vera Buscher’s husband died in 2002, the longtime St. Clair resident said she needed to find something to do to occupy her time.
She found it.
The 80-year-old Buscher is a mainstay volunteer at the St. Clair Senior Center on Park Avenue. She spends the majority of her weekdays there and helps out wherever needed.
And her tireless efforts have not gone unnoticed as she has been the recent recipient of two awards. She was named the center’s 2011 Volunteer of the Year and earned a Governor’s Senior Service Award this year from Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder inside the Capitol.
“I do it (volunteer) because I love it,” Buscher said at the senior center one day recently while taking a break from her duties. “I’ve basically been volunteering here ever since my husband passed away. I love doing things for people now, and I just hope and pray that when I can’t do it anymore, someone will provide the same kind of care for me.”
But the way things are going, that day won’t come anytime soon.
“She is dedicated and appreciated,” St. Clair Senior Center Director Mary Baldwin said of her star volunteer. “I can count on her to do whatever I need, and it will be done right. We value her and her opinion very much. She just keeps going. I don’t know what we would do without her.”
Buscher said on most weekdays, she is at the center from about 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Three days a week, she covers the front desk. On other days, she takes fellow seniors on shopping trips, prescription runs or other errands. She also helps coordinate the Meals on Wheels lunch deliveries as well as “anything else that needs to be done.”
And, she is the center’s main bingo caller as well as its master gardener.
“If it wasn’t for the center, I’d be home doing nothing,” Buscher said. “And I don’t want to do nothing. This keeps me active. This keeps me involved. It’s something I want to do.
“It’s kind of like my hobby to be here. Anything I can do I’m willing to do,” she said. “In fact, sometimes I may overdo.”
Baldwin remembers how Buscher got started volunteering at the center.
“She came in one day for lunch,” the director said. “We started talking. I said we needed a volunteer to help at the desk.”
“I said I’d try it, but I didn’t know if I could do it,” Buscher said.
“She proved right away she could do it,” Baldwin said. “And she’s been doing it ever since.”
And despite all the time she already spends at the center, Buscher said she wishes it could be more.
“I wish the center was open seven days a week,” she said. “I wish I could spend my weekends here instead of at home.
“I just love being here.”
During the weekends, Buscher said she works around her house, both inside and outside.
“I mow the grass,” she said. “And since my husband died I’ve learned how to use a hammer and screwdriver. I try to take care of things at home as best I can.”
Buscher also stays active in the community. She is a regular attender of St. Clair Board of Aldermen meetings twice a month and often voices her opinion and concerns about issues in the city.
“I like the city to know what I think should be done,” she said. “I think about the safety of other people. Now that I’m by myself, I look around when I get around.
“Before, I didn’t have to worry about those kind of things, but now I do because I’m by myself. I notice things more now, and I get concerned.”
One recent thing Buscher brought to the board of aldermen’s attention was a potentially dangerous sidewalk situation at the intersection of Main Street and Park Avenue.
She mentioned it during a board meeting, and the city ended up adding a sidewalk at the northeast corner of the intersection to improve safety.
“If I see something, I want to bring it up. You never know, it just might save a life.”
Buscher was born Vera Winkelman in 1931 in Rhineland, a small community near Hermann. She lived on an islet on the Missouri River until a flood destroyed her home when she was about 9 years old.
“We lost everything,” Buscher said. “My mom woke up one night and saw some water on the floor and thought someone had peed in the house. But it actually was water.
“It just rained and rained and rained and the river came up. ... We had a boat, and we packed up what we could. We went across the river to a friend’s house, and we stayed with them for a couple of days.”
Buscher went to school in Gasconade and graduated from eighth grade there. She said when she was 16, she started working in a pants factory.
“I didn’t like it,” she said.
So, she got a job at the shoe factory in Hermann. It was there she met her husband, Oscar.
The couple was married in 1951 before moving to Pennsylvania. Both of their children were born there — Charles in 1958 and Emma in 1960.
The family moved back to the area in the mid-1960s and soon thereafter purchased a home in St. Clair.
“I’ve lived there more than 40 years,” Buscher said.
Buscher’s two children still live in the area. She now has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Before retiring in 2000, Buscher said she worked at the St. Clair Nursing Home, Motor Appliance in Washington, Associate Rubber in St. Clair and Mercy Hospital Washington.
Oscar died in 2002 shortly after the couple celebrated 50 years of marriage.
That is when the volunteer work began.
“I enjoy trying to help,” she said. “And it’s nice to be appreciated. At the end of the day, I can go home and feel pretty good.
“But I can’t wait to return to the center.”