Through RSVP, a small army of seniors pitches in

Ralph Quaas was 72 when he sold City Floral, an Everett flower shop he had owned for 40 years. Now 80, he has been retired since 2006. For Quaas, retirement is anything but an easygoing rest after a long career.

His calendar is filled nearly every day of the week. “And I wish I were more busy,” he said on a recent Friday, his day as a lunchtime kitchen volunteer at Everett’s Carl Gipson Senior Center.

When it was time to retire, Quaas said, he asked himself, “What can you do to change the world?” What he did was step up his volunteer activities.

Even as a shop owner, he was as serious about community service as he was about business. A member of the Rotary Club of Everett for nearly 50 years, he has never missed a meeting.

With his wife, Kay, he volunteered before retirement with Providence Hospice &Home Care of Snohomish County. He has devoted time to YMCA of Snohomish County, the Everett School District and the Snohomish County Human Services Council.

After retirement, Quaas said, “I was looking for more to do.”

The Everett man found lots of opportunities to help through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. The program known as RSVP matches people 55 and older with meaningful ways to help close to home. Part of the national Senior Corps effort that also includes Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions, RSVP is organized in our area by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

Each Friday, Quaas works from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Everett’s senior center. He helps with food preparation, serving and cleanup. “It’s always fun to do the dishes,” Quaas said.

Through RSVP, Quaas has also helped with a wheelchair rental program at the Evergreen State Fair, a reading and mentoring program at Everett’s Jackson Elementary School, and a Christmas wreath fundraiser for Puget Sound Kidney Centers.

Lisa Bachler, volunteer services manager with Catholic Community Services in Everett, said Quaas is one of about 850 RSVP volunteers now active in Snohomish County. Some volunteer as drivers, helping elderly and disabled people and veterans get to medical appointments and take care of other essential errands. Statewide, there are RSVP projects in 31 of Washington’s 39 counties.

Bachler said one 95-year-old volunteer, Elsie Krueger, serves meals and works at a coffee bar at the Edmonds Senior Center. Krueger is believed to be the local program’s oldest volunteer, and Bachler said she has told RSVP organizers: “I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t volunteer. I have to be around people. This is what keeps me going.”

Quaas, who volunteers about 30 to 40 hours per month with RSVP, said the bonus for helpers is spending time with others. “It’s wonderful if somebody is helped by what we’re doing,” he said.

Marysville’s Doris Lyon, who doesn’t share her age, is a regular RSVP volunteer at the Stillaguamish Senior Center in Arlington.

“And if they ever need a substitute, I can do that, too,” she said. “On the last Sunday of the month, we serve a chicken dinner, all done by volunteers. I cashier at that. It’s fun. To have other people come and talk to you, I just feel so comfortable.”

Lyon said her doctor advised her to find a task that allows her to sit down. That doesn’t keep her from helping.

“I do reception now. You meet so many people,” said Lyons, who uses Community Transit’s Dial-A-Ride Transportation to get to her volunteer job. “It’s nice to be able to get out,” she said.

Lyon, who moved to the United States from her native England, remembers her first volunteer effort during World War II. “When I was 16, I volunteered at a canteen in Birmingham, England. When the troops were going through, they had to change trains. We’d give them cups of tea,” she said.

“I like meeting people. It keeps me going and gets me thinking of others,” said Lyon, who signed up to be an RSVP volunteer after her husband died in 1996. “You don’t feel old when you’re doing this.”

Bachler, the program’s volunteer services manager, said age can be an asset. “There is so much value in the knowledge the seniors bring, and their histories. Often there is cross-generational sharing,” she said.

In Snohomish County, RSVP helpers lend their skills and experience to more than 100 nonprofit agencies. They choose jobs that line up with their interests, or try something new.

Volunteers mentor kids through an Academic Link Outreach program. Some assist police and fire departments. Others deliver items donated by grocery stores to local food banks, or help at the Red Barn Community Farm in Everett’s Lowell area. The farm grows produce for the Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition, which operates under the umbrella of Volunteers of America Western Washington.

For Quaas, who spent decades running his own business, helping with RSVP isn’t enough. He has been involved with Everett’s View Ridge-Madison Neighborhood Association, United Way of Snohomish County’s Days of Caring, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Everett, and the St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank at Everett’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. He also serves on the board of the Carl Gipson Senior Center Foundation.

Quaas was recently honored with the local United Way’s 2014 Roger Bouck Award for Volunteerism in Action during an Everett AquaSox game. The award is named for a Mill Creek man who died in 2009. Bouck was a longtime volunteer with United Way, Rotary International and the Bluebills, a Boeing retiree volunteer group.

Quaas said he has a motto: “Hey, I can do that.”

Seniors helping

The Retired Senior Volunteer Program, a national program for volunteers 55 and older, is organized locally by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. Volunteers tutor children, help at food banks and senior centers, provide transportation, and assist in many other ways. Information: 425-374-6374 or

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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