By John Toole
---- — WINDHAM — Barbara Coish is bound for the Statehouse in Concord next week to get a big award.
It’s a good thing for state officials they scheduled the ceremony for Monday because, around Windham, everyone knows you won’t get Coish away from what she calls “my seniors” on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Coish is president of the Windham Seniors and those are lunch days at the senior center. There are 25 or 30 town residents who regularly count on Coish being there for them.
The Joseph D. Vaughan Award is the state’s highest award for senior volunteers. One person in each county is chosen to receive the award every year. The governor publicly thanks recipients for their service. This year, Coish is Rockingham County’s honoree.
Helen Kostrzynski nominated Coish on behalf of Rockingham Nutrition and Meals on Wheels.
“She’s been a volunteer for so many years,” Kostrzynski said of Coish. “She’s one of those volunteers we rely on to do so much. If Barbara says she is going to do something, she’s going to get it done.”
Coish, who just turned 75 and says she doesn’t feel that age at all, didn’t see this coming.
“It was quite an honor to even be nominated,” Coish said. “It was a surprise I won.”
Coish will board the town van for the trip to the Statehouse. She will be accompanied by some of the seniors, folks from the Rockingham program and town recreation coordinator Cheryl Haas.
Her family will be there, too — husband Ron, daughter Karen Mackey, son Jonathan Coish.
That’s appropriate. Family had something to do with this from the start.
Coish would accompany her mother, Alma Zins, and her mother-in-law, Hilda Coish, to lunch with the seniors.
“I took my mother and my mother-in-law,” she said. “They didn’t drive. I would hang around.”
She continued to hang around even after her mother and mother-in-law had died.
Coish has been working on behalf of seniors about 15 years now, through many meals.
She’s never taken a penny.
“It is a volunteer job,” Coish said.
In these days of agency cutbacks, Kostrzynski thinks that’s probably a good thing for Windham.
“I don’t think we could have that program at all without her,” Kostrzynski said.
“A lot of those seniors would have to miss out.”
Coish is convinced the center makes a difference in the lives of seniors, which is why she is there for them.
“Our main benefit is for socializing,” she said. “This is a place for them to go so they are not sitting in a house by themselves.”
The participants range from their late 60s to early 90s.
Coish makes a point of saying she isn’t the only one doing this.
“At 11 o’clock, certain people will get up and do what needs to be done in the kitchen for five or 10 minutes,” she said.
“Then they go back to their cards. No one is paid.”
Coish became a senior volunteer after her retirement as a dental hygienist.
For many years, she worked with a state program that brought dental services to those in need.
“Wonderful,” is how she characterizes the experience of volunteering.
“It makes you feel good,” she said, “and whoever you are volunteering for feel good.”
It is a great experience for anyone of any age, Coish believes.
She loves that the school district requires high school students to complete volunteer community service.
“I think it’s great that it is required. Most high schools are doing it now,” Coish said.
“There is always something students can do, as well as adults.”