A decade ago, the longtime chairman of the Oak Park/River Forest Seniors Services Committee, Jim Flanagan, launched the Celebrating Seniors Coalition. Its mission: honoring, recognizing and serving seniors in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, Illinois.
From the outset, I have served as the group’s publicist.
Although Celebrating Seniors Week, held each May for a week, was nixed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has made strides with an updated, upgraded website.
In addition to providing more details and a better experience for visitors, the revamped website spotlights several key volunteers who have been especially active over the years. They include Flanagan, as well as Dr. Lydia Manning, Richard Harrison and Nick Preys.
Among these leading volunteers has been Pat Koko, who has received the organization’s Volunteer of the Year Award on multiple occasions.
The Oprah Winfrey of Celebrating Seniors
In fact, I see Pat as the Oprah Winfrey of Celebrating Seniors. An explanation: while still a talk show host, Oprah took herself out of the running for Emmy Awards. Likewise, Pat could at least be a co-recipient of the award every year, and I would not be surprised if we eventually name the award in her honor. With energy, humor and steadfastness that are a powerful force, Pat is truly a volunteer extraordinaire.
A little more background about Pat:
Along with her husband, Paul, and their daughter, Marie, Pat moved to Oak Park in 1967. After she graduated from Dominican University (Rosary College at the time) with a degree in History, Pat volunteered to deliver meals to home-bound seniors for Oak Park Township. Thus began a dedicated 45-plus years of working with and for older adults in our communities.
For 20 years, Pat ran a home-care agency to provide assistance to seniors while she also served as a key volunteer with the Oak Park and River Forest Food Pantry (now known as Beyond Hunger) for 17 years. Her community involvement has also included being among the founders of a networking group, the Senior Citizens’ Services Coordinating Council. The SCSCC still meets monthly to gather those who serve seniors to strengthen their professional development.
In addition, Pat served as Administrative Secretary of The Community of Congregations, and was Executive Director of the Senior Citizens Center before being reappointed to the Oak Park-River Forest Senior Citizens Advisory Council.
Since Celebrating Seniors’ inception, Pat has been Treasurer and Resource Coordinator for the organization. Personally, I think “Volunteer Extraordinaire” captures it pretty well, too.