Michael D. Clark reports:
George Wolf’s dementia may well have overtaken him by now if he wasn’t helping out the kids and teachers at a nearby school.
That’s the consensus of those who love Wolf, 82, including the two first-grade teachers he volunteers for each school year and during summer break.
The retired General Electric worker and former U.S. Air Force airman volunteers at Mason Early Childhood Center.
In doing so, he is helping himself.
“It’s really a godsend that the teachers let him do this,” says George’s wife, Loretta, who recently took George to the Warren County school to load up on school supplies he will organize during the summer break.
“Otherwise he would be sitting in a chair all day and more and more of his dementia would take over. By keeping him working he doesn’t have time to sit there and realize something is wrong.”
Wolf started volunteering seven years ago at the recommendation of his daughter, Sandy Tomlin, whose son was then in Dona Mason’s first-grade class. An upcoming classroom Mother’s Day celebration was proving overwhelming and she needed extra hands for cutting paper, stuffing envelopes and other repetitive tasks suited for Wolf’s skill level.
With Loretta – his wife of 58 years – at his side, George goes about his school activities with an enthusiasm and playful temperament unchanged by his progressive dementia. He doesn’t talk much. When he does, it’s often a short quip alluding to his condition and work.
“You can tell I’m well broke in,” Wolf says with a smile while loading boxes of school supplies into his wife’s car.
Wolf works on average a combined 20 hours per week at school and at home on school projects. Teachers especially appreciate Wolf’s helping hands in the summer.
“(George and Loretta) take all the summer classroom supplies home. They clean all the scissors, check all the glue sticks and clean up the marker boards. He puts together the homework binders and prepares them for the parents at the beginning of the new school year,” Mason says.
Wolf’s dementia condition is reflective of the umbrella term that covers a number of degenerative mental aliments – including Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. The degenerative disease, which involves vascular or other physical changes in the brain, is often associated with advanced aging. Symptoms include impaired short-term memory, misjudgment, verbal difficulties, declining daily functioning and personality changes.
Dr. Susan Schrimpf Davis specializes in osteopathic and geriatric medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She applauds the Mason teachers, saying the volunteer opportunity can slow Wolf’s mental decline.
“The key component is maintaining functionality. Dementia robs people of short-term memories, but they still have lots of old memories,” Schrimpf Davis says.
There is also an emotional payoff.
“Everyone can get some emotional satisfaction by keeping active. It feels good for them to help and to continue to feel connected,” she says.
Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for Mason Schools, says Wolf and his condition are unique among the hundreds of school volunteers in the district.