“I just love people.”
The words were hard to pick up, as Helen Hahn blurred from one room to the next in her Bay Colony home, her interviewer straining to keep pace with this boundless whirl of energy.
“I love people, and I love getting to know people,” she said, a huge smile getting more pronounced with each word.
It is that love of people, along with her endless enthusiasm for life, that made Helen Hahn the first winner of the Coastal Point Hometown Hero volunteer award.
“My daughter said to me, ‘Mom, you’re involved in everything.’ I told her, ‘No, I just like people.’”
Noticing a trend?
No, Hahn is not involved in every volunteer organization in the community, but she certainly handles her fair share of the volunteer load. Take a look:
• The Bethany Beach Women’s Civic Club
• The Beach & Bay Cottage Tour
• The Bethany Beach museum
• The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce
• The Bethany Beach Watercolor Society
• The Bethany Beach Centennial committee
• Mariner’s Bethel Methodist Church
• The Millsboro Art League
• The Red Hat Society (Millville Madams)
• The Lord Baltimore Lioness Club (past president)
• Order of the Eastern Star
Oh, there’s more. Hahn was going through her mental checklist of organizations she works with, but another thought stole her attention.
“I really like helping out my neighbors, too,” she said. “[Bay Colony] is just a great neighborhood, and all my neighbors are wonderful. We really help each other out here. They help me out, too.”
Getting involved with her surroundings is not a new concept for Hahn. She worked at the Millersville University (Lancaster, Penn.) campus store for 31 years, before retiring in 1994. That year, by the way, is also when she received her degree in art — one she had been taking classes for throughout her tenure on campus.
She took both her studies and job seriously.
“After a while, I was in charge of eight registers,” she explained. If the total of those registers was off — even by two cents, she explained — she would go back through the register tape and drawers to discover the cause of the discrepancy.
“I liked it to come out even,” she said, matter-of-factly.
Hahn moved to this community in 1995, and saw her role as a volunteer become her new obsession. Volunteering for an organization was not to be something she took lightly.
“When I volunteer for something, I feel that it’s now my responsibility,” she said. “I want to do my best and make it work the right way.”
Others have noticed.
“We love Helen,” said Karen McGrath, executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce. “She’s the sunniest person I’ve ever met. She just has a wonderful attitude about volunteering. When she shows up to help us with a project, she doesn’t act like a prima donna. She just asks what she can do to help, and she does it.
“When her husband (Harold) passed, she didn’t wallow in self-pity,” McGrath continued. “She just dove in and helped out more people. I really think it made her feel better, too.”
Joseph McHugh, the former mayor of Bethany Beach, remembered Hahn’s volunteer work when the town was putting together its centennial celebration in 2001. What stood out the most, according to McHugh, was the old-fashioned bathing suit Hahn had brought him to wear during the festivities. But her enthusiasm for volunteer work also stood out to McHugh.
“She’s a good person,” said McHugh. “A lot of fun to be around. I will always remember her as having been great to the town of Bethany Beach.”
Hahn is not a wallflower. Meet her the first time, and chances are you’ll receive a hug. Meet her a second time, and chances are you have a friend for life.
One of her best friends, and a fellow volunteer-in-arms, is Bethany Beach resident Maureen Dzur. Though incredibly busy with her own volunteer efforts in the community, Dzur is impressed by Hahn.
“I call her one of the ‘Golden Girls,’” said Dzur. “Or the ‘Energizer Bunny.’ There is never anything that’s too much for her. She’s just an incredible woman.”
But that’s not all Dzur had to say about her friend.
“She is incredibly dependable,” said Dzur. “She’s just an asset for anybody she’s around ... A lot of people try to make the time to help out. She just flat-out makes the time.
“I enjoy everything about her, and I’m very happy to have her as a friend.”
And Hahn is happy to have all her friends. Her phrase of “I just love people” gets repeated over and over again throughout the course of a conversation. She doesn’t really see anything special in her volunteer efforts at all, especially since she feels she gains so much from the work.
“I get to meet so many people, and learn so many things from all of them,” said Hahn. “You can always educate yourself, and I just love people. And, besides that, it’s fun.
“I love this community so much,” she continued. “The people down here are so friendly. Everyone just accepts you for who you are, and it doesn’t matter to them who or what you are as long as you’re good to them.”
There is one person here, however, that holds a special place in Hahn’s heart — her brother, Richard Baltz, who shares Hahn’s experience of losing a spouse.
“I thank God every day that I have him,” said Hahn, her eyes misting with appreciation. “He means the world to me. When I’m kind of down, he lifts my spirits up, and I try to do the same for him.”
It’s a good bet she does, considering how many other people she lifts.