Sue Paterno, Lloyd Rhoades and Eileen Moser talked Thursday about what the Centre County United Way Day of Caring event meant to Col. Gerald Russell.
“If you didn’t know Col. Russell, it was your loss,” Rhoades said at a ceremony at Our Lady of Victory Preschool honoring the day’s founder, a community fixture who died in February. “He was remarkable, and saying he was remarkable just doesn’t get the job done.”
Moser reflected on people’s kind words about Russell since his death.
“That’s what’s meant so much to me,” Moser said. “Hearing things like that about my dad.”
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Twenty years ago, her father launched the community volunteer event held annually on the first Thursday in October. For this year’s gathering, the first without Russell, the event was officially renamed the Col. Gerald Russell Day of Caring in honor of his perennial dedication and service.
Keith Barrows, a PNC Bank representative, presented Moser with a framed Day of Caring T-shirt to kick off the ceremony. PNC Bank has sponsored Day of Caring each year.
Barrows said it was appropriate to honor Russell at the preschool because he was an active member of the Our Lady of Victory parish.
“He enjoyed visiting Our Lady of Victory every year to see what work was being done,” Barrows said.
Brent Pasquinelli recalled how he and Russell started Day of Caring in 1994.
“I was the campaign chair for United Way in 1994, and we sat down for lunch at the Corner Room,” Pasquinelli said. “I’d met Col. Russell at the Special Olympics and recognized his commitment to volunteer service, his ability to lead, and knew he’d be the person to get this started. By the end of our two-hour lunch he had a plan written on the back of a napkin.”
Russell carried out his plan, and in the early years of the event coordinated volunteer work at United Way agencies.
The event had to expand because so many volunteers signed up.
“It really exploded early on,” Rhoades said. “We had to go out and find more work to do at nonprofits, because we had so many volunteers. I don’t think he initially visualized this is what would happen.”
Paterno said she wasn’t surprised at how big the event has become.
“He always worked tirelessly to get volunteers and supplies for this day,” she said.
Pasquinelli echoed her thoughts.
“When you dedicate yourself to something you can reach great heights,” he said. “Col. Russell dedicated himself to his country, his family and others.”