Russ Marineau—Someone You Should Know

July 2015 View more

NMAG0715_SYSK_nm russ marineau 1_800pxAn innovative Naperville School District 203 program has proved to be one last hurrah for 81-year-old grandfather of eight Russ Marineau. The day he retired he was approached to head a volunteer project connecting elders with students. HURRAH (Happy Upbeat Retirees and other Residents Actively Helping) connects volunteers with schools, enabling them to help in a range of activities from reading to developing new courses.

Why did you decide to become a volunteer when you retired?

Volunteering helps me be part of the community. My wife Ann was a teacher and our five children attended Washington Junior High. Two of my daughters taught there and I help out in my daughter Jane Loan’s class. It gives me back some of the things that I would miss about not working, like meeting people. It’s a real sense of accomplishment. I feel like I am giving back to the community and I love the kids. It’s good to stay in touch with younger people. There’s never a dull moment.

But you don’t just volunteer in the classroom. This opportunity has turned into a second career for you.

Yes, I took over HURRAH in 1991 and by 1998 was chairman of their executive committee that liaises with the district. I developed a recruiting brochure and presented the HURRAH program around Illinois. The organization was founded by two retired Naperville teachers and has since been recognized across the state as a prototype for inter-generational programs for elders.
I’ve won many Naperville School District awards as well as the Naperville Jaycees Distinguished Service Award—Senior Citizen in 2003. I’m now chairman emeritus and will be celebrating 24 years as a HURRAH volunteer in the coming school year.

HURRAH is all about elders helping students, but it’s not a one-way relationship is it?

No it isn’t. The program is beneficial to the volunteers in other ways too. Students at Benedictine University welcome us into their wellness program, where physical therapy student’s work with us. It has been very good. It gives them some practical experience to put on their resumes and we get help to stay fit. At Naperville North, the older folks help with reading or mentoring, while the children help solve problems some volunteers might be having with their computers or phones.

It’s been a long time since you were in school. What differences do you see now?

In those days two classes shared a room at the same time, and everything was very formal. The principal only knew your name if you were regularly in trouble. It’s so much better now. We had one library in town and we had to use encyclopedias if we needed to research anything. It’s just unbelievable now.

How about the use of computers in school?

For 32 years I was a systems engineer for IBM. When I retired in 1991, I was a national account manager. I tell the kids when I helped a company years ago I would have to ask who was in charge of data entry. No one wanted to be involved, only the person responsible. In the early days we used punch cards. Now the kids have more memory on their phones than we did on our computers!

Do you see yourself ever retiring again?

When I retired after 32 years with IBM, I told people that my mother lived until 93, and if I could live that long, I would be a HURRAH volunteer longer than I worked at IBM. That is still my goal today. Every time I do a presentation on HURRAH, I tell the audience: ‘volunteers are not paid. This is not because they are worthless—it’s because they are priceless.’

Photo by Robyn Sheldon