Middletown retiree lauded as national
volunteer of the year by VFW
URI Master Gardening class inspired his volunteerism
KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 18, 2003 -- When Middletown resident Bill Chew decided to take the Master Gardening class at the University of Rhode Island in 2001, it was a bigger challenge than he expected.
"I had been out of school for a really long time," said the 70-year-old retired electrical worker. "After each class, I had to study all week to get ready for the weekly exams. It was tough. But I made it."
Little did he know that after completing the course and being designated a URI Master Gardener, his new-found avocation would lead him down a path of volunteerism that would result in his being named the national volunteer of the year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"The guys at my post recommended me for the award about two months ago, and I told them Im not worthy," Chew said. "Theres probably 100 people who deserve it more than me. But two weeks ago, I got the call from Washington that they picked me from among everybody in the country."
When Chew retired, he got together with a group of Korean War veterans to erect a memorial at the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter. After three years of effort, they raised $250,000 for the memorial.
"After that, the group of us stuck together. We went back to Korea in September 2001, and we regularly go down to Exeter to do some work sprucing up the cemetery."
After becoming a URI Master Gardener, he began working at the Veterans Home in Bristol. "Weve got 25 gardens throughout the whole complex there," he said, "and we have a greenhouse where we grow a lot of stuff ourselves. The residents especially like that we grow tomatoes. One of the nurses said, five years ago I was ashamed of how the place looked, but you people have really brightened the place up. Its been a really rewarding experience for me."
In addition to volunteering more than 200 hours per year at the Veterans Home and continuing his regular visits to the Veterans Cemetery, Chew helps out at the Seabee Center in Davisville, volunteers at the Marine Reserve unit at Fields Point in Providence, and does gardening work at the VFW post in Cranston, near where he lived for 40 years.
"Ive got less time now than when I was working!" said the Korean War veteran, who served in the first marine division from 1951 to 1952.
During the volunteer of the year ceremony in Washington last Tuesday, Chew spoke before an audience of 2,000 and received a standing ovation. "It was great! And I never would have been down there getting that award if it werent for the URI Master Gardener program."