Serving those who served

LaValley honored with Senior Volunteer of the Year Governor’s Service Award for volunteer work at D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans

Grace LaValley, a volunteer at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette, smiles as she waters a plant on the building’s sun porch. LaValley has been honored with the Senior Volunteer of the Year Governor's Service Award by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Community Service Commission. LaValley, who has volunteered at D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans for the past two decades, has dedicated over 5,000 hours of her time and enjoys giving back to those who have served our country, she said. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — “It’s just helping people and doing the best you can.”

These words by Grace LaValley, who has been honored with the Senior Volunteer of the Year Governor’s Service Award by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Community Service Commission, perhaps epitomize LaValley’s approach to volunteerism and life.

Over the past 20 years, LaValley has been a dedicated volunteer, giving the gift of her time to local veterans by volunteering at D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette.

“Grace has been incredibly dedicated and she’s accumulated well over 5,000 hours of volunteering at the Jacobetti Home for Veterans,” D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Johnson said. “She is not only dedicated. but she’s been very helpful when we’ve had new volunteers come in; she’s helped train them in so they could do a really great job when they’re volunteering. She’s fun and friendly and very, very kind.”

Throughout her time as a volunteer, LaValley has been engaged in a diverse array of activities at Jacobetti.

“She works really quietly behind the scenes also, so she’ll prep the coffee area and refill the creamers and make sure that everything is ready to go, so when the event starts, it can run really smoothly,” Johnson said. “She does this in addition to being out front working with the veterans and helping them have a good experience.”

In the early days of her volunteer service, LaValley spent time working with Jacobetti’s female veterans, engaging them in activities, listening to their stories and helping them celebrate holidays with gifts and parties.

LaValley found spending time with the women and hearing their experiences in war and life extremely valuable, she said.

Currently, she spends time doing “anything that needs to be done” and helping veterans enjoy activities at Jacobetti, such as bingo, LaValley said.

She enjoys spending time with them and forming personal connections, LaValley said, noting she’s gotten the chance to know almost every veteran over the years and has made many friendships.

“I’ve helped almost every one of them at one time or another,” she said.

For LaValley, it’s a great way to give back to those who served our nation while staying active and engaged, she said.

“I keep busy, that’s what keeps me going is knowing that day when I get up, I have someplace to go and someplace to do things and somebody that needs a little help,” she said.

Volunteerism has been particularly important to her since her husband Wilbert, a veteran himself, tragically suffered a stroke in 2005 and later passed away.

“The doctor knew me and she said: ‘You have to get out of the house.’ So they had someone come in to take care of him for two hours, three days a week,” she said. “And for two days, I would come here and play bingo or help with the bingo.”

The many friendships she’s developed over the years at Jacobetti have meant the world to her, LaValley said, as Jacobetti has become “like a second home to” her.

“She’s well-adored by many,” Johnson said, noting LaValley’s kindness and dedication has made a big difference.

“Our volunteers are essential to us being able to provide more to the veterans,” Johnson said. “Having them here allows us to have more frequent activities. And it’s just fun for the members to socialize with other people.”

The Governor’s Service Award isn’t LaValley’s first time being recognized for her volunteerism as she was honored with a U.P. Service Award in 2018 and recognized at the D. J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans’ 37th annual Volunteer Banquet in May for 5,000 hours of service.

Despite all the recognition, LaValley remains humble, and said she “almost fell off the chair” when she learned about winning the Senior Volunteer of the Year Governor’s Service Award.

It’s particularly significant, LaValley said, as she’s among the first Upper Peninsula residents to be recognized with the statewide Senior Volunteer of the Year Governor’s Service Award.

“It’s a big deal for the Upper Peninsula to be recognized,” LaValley said.

Overall, LaValley hopes to continue spreading the word about volunteerism, as she’s encouraged many people over the years to lend a hand at Jacobetti and has seen firsthand the difference that volunteers of all ages can make in the lives of those who served our country.

Next month, LaValley and her family look forward to attending a special ceremony honoring Governor’s Service Award winners hosted by the Michigan Community Service Commission at 7 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Detroit Opera House.

The 2019 Governor’s Service Award winners were announced Friday and include 43 “individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations that were selected for their commitment to volunteerism, service or philanthropy,” a press release states.

“Our state is lucky to have such outstanding Michiganders who work hard every single day to build a home for opportunity for everyone. Whether it’s uplifting our neighborhoods or bringing communities together when tragedy strikes, they do this work even when nobody’s looking because they know that every contribution makes a huge impact,” Whitmer said. “I’m proud to present the Governor’s Service Awards to this year’s recipients as recognition of their sacrifice and dedication throughout our state.”

Visit www.michigan.gov/GovernorsServiceAwards for more information.

For those who wish to attend the Sept. 5 ceremony in Detroit. Admission is free, but registration is required. To register, visit 2019governorsserviceawards.eventbrite.com.

To learn more about volunteering at Jacobetti, contact Johnson at 906-226-3576.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.