Volunteering with vitality

The Falloons stay sharp in retirement
by giving back to their community
Sunday, December 3, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:52 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ernie and Norma Falloon, 82, and 77 respectively, were having a quiet day in November as volunteer staffers at the Visitors Center on St. Charles Road in Columbia, until the Kellam family arrived in the form of two whirling bundles of energy.

Ashley and Evan Kellam were the first children of the day to stop in at the center, and Norma was delighted. She and Ernie helped the children’s mother, Lara Kellam, find a map, then offered her the bathroom to change her toddler, Evan.

As shrieks of children’s laughter emanated from the closed door, Norma rooted around the top of one of the center’s filing cabinets.

“Aha, here they are,” Norma said, smiling as she held up a box of crayons. She offered the box and a bunny drawing to Ashley as she came out of the bathroom. The little girl smiled shyly, clutching the gift to her chest.

The friendly exchange was typical of most interactions between the Falloons and visitors. The Falloons, who live right outside Harrisburg, go out of their way to help people who stop at the center, poring over maps and offering suggestions to travelers who are lost.

The couple move quicker than their combined 159 years might suggest. When Ernie drives, he zips along the streets, knowing all the shortcuts. He bends and moves like someone 20 years younger. But he isn’t sure if he’s fast enough for his wife.

“Sometimes she thinks I’m getting old and pokey when I can’t keep up with her,” Ernie said.

Though Ernie has been retired for more than 20 years, and Norma for 15, they remain active. Their days are packed with volunteering. They work for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and the Columbia City Volunteers on assignments like manning the Visitor Center, staffing information desks at University Hospital, driving for Meals on Wheels, volunteering at the Show Me State Games, stuffing envelopes weekly to support a muscular dystrophy foundation and seeking out the one- or two-time volunteer opportunities that Norma finds in the newspaper.

“We’re pretty busy,” Norma said. “We usually have something most everyday, and some nights.”

The couple take their volunteering seriously.

“It’s just like a job, except you don’t get paid,” Norma said. “If you commit to be there, you should be there.”

For the Falloons, volunteering is key to staying healthy and sharp.

“It keeps you younger; it keeps your brain active,” Norma said. “Otherwise we’d become couch potatoes.”

Staying active in retirement seems natural for a couple who have each weathered an open heart surgery, trips across the world that were occasionally dangerous and 55 years of marriage. Volunteering was a way that they could give back a little to the community.

“It gives us satisfaction to think that we’re maybe helping some people,” Ernie said.

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