When people in the City of Cedarburg needed a Good Samaritan to drive them to a local hospital, beauty shop, visit friends or go grocery shopping, they could always count on Herb Wollner.
Last May, Mayor Greg Myers presented Herb with an official proclamation at the Cedarburg Common Council meeting recognizing his 20 years of service as a volunteer driver for the Cedarburg Senior Van Program.
Although he recently retired from the program, director of the Cedarburg Senior Center Carol LaFontaine admitted that Herb is missed by the center’s regular riders.
“He is one of only two other drivers who have driven that long,” she said. “He drove every week and for the last 15 years; he drove on Friday mornings. People liked driving with Herb because he was courteous, friendly and always willing to help. We all miss him.”
With more than 15 people driving the single vehicle each week, LaFontaine admitted that the van gets quite a workout. In the 20 years that Herb volunteered, he has driven and helped care for the five city-owned vans.
“The program is unique in that it costs the taxpayers nothing,” she said. “The drivers are all volunteers, the vans are funded through donations and riders pay a modest fee to help cover operating expenses. It is a super service and the drivers are a great asset.”
In addition, Herb and his wife Laverne delivered Meals on Wheels on a regular basis for the past 20 years.
He also served as an usher at St. Francis Borgia Parish for the past 20 years.
But, at 84, Herb decided it was time to turn in the keys, retire from his volunteering and spend more time with his bride. They have been married 63 years and with just one car between the two of them, they can drive more places together, including visits to the homes of their four children and nine grandchildren.
“Laverne never grumbled, not even once in all those years,” Herb bragged. “It was inconvenient at times, but it worked out all right. I go to daily Mass and sometimes my first stop was right after Mass, so I would park by the church, get the van and pick up my first customer.”
When the Wollners sold the family farm and moved to Cedarburg 20 years ago, Herb wanted something extra to do besides yard work and other household tasks.
“My neighbor, Carol, lived a couple of houses away and she said she could use a driver for the Senior Center and that’s how it all started,” he said. “I really liked doing this. It felt good to help others, and in the back of my mind I always thought that someday it might be me that needed a ride – and how nice it would be to have this program available.”
While a few riders were a bit on the grumpy side, Herb said that most were very appreciative of the lift and often tried to offer him a tip, something he always refused.
“I never wanted to take any money because I figured it would be defeating the purpose of volunteering and I wanted this to be from the goodness of my heart and nothing else,” he said.
Giving back to God has been the mainstay of Herb’s life, going back to his fondest childhood memories – the years spent as an altar server.
“I have great memories of being on the altar from when I was a little kid – this is my church; I have always felt at home here,” he said. “I feel that we are supposed to give back because we have all been blessed so much.”
The mayoral recognition was a surprise to the unassuming Herb, as well as the appreciation party that LaFontaine arranged to honor his service.
“There were a few tears and it was sad for me, too,” he admitted. “I felt really funny when I gave up the keys – it was quite emotional. I have made some wonderful friends through the program, and some I got to know quite well. One man calls me all the time and I like that.”
The decision to quit driving came upon him gradually, but Herb began to notice that many of his riders were younger than he was, and safety wise, it began to concern him.
“I remember this lady who I drove to the doctor, she said to me, ‘I am going to be 80, can you imagine?’” Herb explained. “Here I was older than her and then I began to worry, what if I would be in an accident – it would have been in the paper and that would not have been a nice headline. So, the time was right to give up the keys.”
While their children often tease the couple about all the extra time on their hands, Herb scoffs and reminds them, that at their age, everything takes a bit longer.
“We aren’t as involved now, but we still do yard work and everything else around the house. We don’t watch TV but keep pretty busy outside,” he said, adding, “Besides, we have plenty of doctor appointments these days, but at least I can still be the one driving.”