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Brian Hamilton: Following in their footsteps

Many among us are mourning this week the loss of two women who epitomized the generosity that makes our community so special.

For decades, Peggy Levine and Toni Thompson put their passion to work for the people of western Nevada County.

Years ago, I met a guy named John White, who at the age of 88 was volunteering for Gold Country Community Services’ senior firewood program, hauling wood to the homes of seniors who were quite often 10 to 20 years his junior.



What struck me about our conversation was when I asked the retiree what he liked to do in his free time — you know, when he wasn’t hauling wood.

… rather than wait for the next wave of retirees or the next generation to step up, how about those of us who already live in this amazing place follow in the footsteps of those who made the time to make a difference in our community?

Silly me. Like so many others in our community, John took great joy in finding other ways to help: volunteering for Meals on Wheels, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, the Red Cross chapter’s Disaster Action Team and monitoring Rock Creek for the South Yuba River Citizens League.




It’s no mistake that we see so many familiar faces among so many different organizations doing the good work this community needs.

Peggy Levine was among the first people I met when I moved here in 2000, as I sat down for lunch at the Holbrooke Hotel with John Seelmeyer, my former editor here at The Union. John told me Peggy and her husband, Howard (now Grass Valley’s mayor), should be on a reporter’s speed dial as sources with a wealth of information to share with the community.

And then some.

Reading Lorraine Jewett’s “Super Seniors” story on Peggy published over the summer served as a reminder of my friend John White, and our community’s commitment to volunteering.

I’d be willing to bet, considering our hundreds of nonprofit organizations and the small armies of people donating their time to their causes, that western Nevada County has more volunteers per capita than most communities across the country.

Peggy and Toni certainly were among those who stepped up, recruited the help they needed and organized efforts that made a difference in people’s lives.

In addition to her work as an artist and business owner, Peggy made time to help out with a lengthy list of community efforts through the years, with four causes coming to the forefront in recent years: the North Star Conservancy, the Grass Valley Historical Commission, the Sierra College Foundation and the Ladies Relief Society.

Toni, who had recently retired as executive director from the Food Bank, made feeding hungry people her mission over the past two decades. Among her successes was the expansion of food distribution and establishing gardens to provide fresh food for Food Bank clients.

“Her 20-plus years of service and commitment to feeding the hungry in Nevada County has resulted in a rich history of dedication, creativity, compassion and hard work,” Jim Redfield, a Food Bank board member, wrote upon her retirement. “Last but not least Toni has encouraged, nurtured, valued and supported our network of awesome volunteers and their critical contribution to the success of our mission to feed the hungry. We could not do it without them.”

A couple years ago, while noting the vast number of volunteers in the community, our former publisher, Jim Hemig, asked “Who will take up our legacy?” 10 to 20 years from now when our volunteer armies — the vast majority being retirees — aren’t able to do it anymore. It’s a valid question.

But rather than wait for the next wave of retirees or the next generation to step up, how about those of us who already live in this amazing place follow in the footsteps of those who made the time to make a difference in our community?

That seems to me a fitting way to honor the efforts of Peggy Levine and Toni Thompson, and all of those who have worked alongside them or in similar fashion.

Donating time or money to the very causes they championed, or myriad other opportunities to step up, would only help continue the work they’ve done and we’ve long enjoyed here.

“This is the most awesome community,” Toni Thompson told The Union in 2005. “I’ve never worked at a job that depended so much on the generosity of people, and these people in Nevada County are wonderful.

“I think people need to care for each other, and I see it daily in this community.”

As do we. Let’s each take those words as a challenge — as a responsibility — to see that tradition of kindness continue.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.


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