“There’s Just Something Volunteering Does to You”: Nellie Befus’ Story

Nellie Befus has volunteered with Calgary Public Library for 44 consecutive years. At age 90, she holds the distinction of being the Library’s oldest volunteer, and one of the Library’s longest-serving volunteers.

Her dedication to the Library was sparked on a warm fall day in 1974, when Nellie bumped into her brother-in-law on a downtown street. “How are things with you?” he asked.

Nellie was feeling bored; with her four children now grown, she found herself with a lot of free time. Her brother-in-law had an idea. The oil and gas company where he worked had recently received a letter from the Library, recruiting volunteers for a new program.

The program, called Homebound Readers, would see volunteers deliver Library items to people who could not visit the Library because of mobility or health concerns. Nellie was intrigued. She had never volunteered before, but something about the letter caught her eye.

“I read the letter, then I marched right down to the Library,” she remembers. “I went straight up to the fifth floor and I went to somebody and I said, ‘I would like to be a volunteer.’”

‘An Amazing Volunteer’

Nearly a half-century later, Nellie continues to volunteer with Calgary Public Library.

“Nellie is an amazing volunteer,” says Azmin Poonja, Manager, Volunteer Resources. “She is one of those volunteers that every organization dreams about. She is reliable, committed, and most importantly, she cares about people and has a passion for literacy. Nellie is a perfect fit for the Library, and her dedication to volunteering is exceptional.”

Nellie, however, is quick to shrug off any praise. She’s matter-of-fact about why she has volunteered for decades: “There’s just something it does to you when you can do something for somebody else, you know?”

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