City to honor volunteers at reception

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – The city of Columbia is to acknowledge hundreds of volunteers on Thursday for their contributions to the city, including a former City Council member who has given his time to the community for decades.

The volunteers provided an estimated $845, 230 worth of unpaid service to the city in 2008, according to a news release from the Office of Volunteer Services.

Mayor Darwin Hindman will also recognize the 12 recipients of the Volunteer of the Month award for 2008. Edwin Kaiser, a former MU organic chemistry professor and council member, will be presented with the Howard B. Lang Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service for his work as a reserve police officer for the Columbia Police Department and with various hazardous waste programs. Kaiser is the first recipient of the award.

Leigh Britt, volunteer coordinator for the city, said about 150 people are expected to attend the reception. More than 6,000 people contributed about 43,320 hours worth of community service in varying capacities, she said.

“We have a wonderful community that’s very generous with their time,” Britt said.

Kaiser is not originally from Columbia. He hails from Youngstown, Ohio and came to the city in 1966 to begin work at MU as an assistant professor. He said he became interested in civic affairs when he began working with a city drug abuse council and as a volunteer police officer for the Columbia Police Department in 1970.

Kaiser said he began volunteering with the Columbia Fire Department in 1980, assisting with incidents involving hazardous material. He said firefighters had taken to calling him “Dr. Death” for his work.

He said in the 15 years he worked as a volunteer for the department, he put in about 50 to 60 hours a month of his time. He also volunteered at a dispatch center for the Police and Fire departments.

When asked how many total hours he contributed, he said: “I haven’t done that math.”

Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steven Sapp, who will host the event, said he met Kaiser when he was himself a reserve officer, and said Kaiser was “instrumental” in guiding him when they worked together.

Sapp said Kaiser's volunteer efforts have made him a staple of the community. He described him as a “fun guy” that can easily converse with people of varying backgrounds, and said he has the ability to “see the big picture.”

“He’s very deserving of any recognition he gets, and I’m personally tickled that he’s the recipient of the award,” Sapp said.

Kaiser had a brief stint in local politics. In 1985, when Mayor John Westlund left office, council member and Mayor Pro Tem Rodney Smith filled the vacancy, and council members chose Kaiser to fill Smith’s vacant seat as Third Ward Representative.

Kaiser was then elected to the seat in 1986 and served one term. Before his time in the council, he served on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission for one year.

Kaiser also offers his time to various nonmunicipal volunteer organizations, such as Meals on Wheels and a student mentoring program maintained by the Kiwanis Club.

Kaiser said it is a “humbling experience” to get chosen for the award.

“There are an awful lot of people that have given an awful lot of time,” Kaiser said. “To be singled out is overwhelming."

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