Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

April 25, 2013

Men both serve their communities

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — For two men recently recognized by their civic efforts, a desire to help their communities is what drives them to be so active.

“I feel if you're going to live in a town and benefit by a town, you ought to give back to it,” said Bruce Mehlenbacher, vice president of the Jacksonville's 1st First Bank branch. Mehlenbacher was recipient of the 2013 Jacksonville “Good Scout Award” for his active involvement with the organization since joining in 1961.

The award was given by the East Texas Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

“Volunteering and the Scouts: I was instilled with those things when I was a young Scout and still believe them today,” he said. “As far as the other boards and committees I've been on, this town has been very good to me and my family, I'm happy living here, I have friends here – it's just been a fine community to raise my children in and have a job in, and the volunteerism part is to give back to the community what I can.”

His sentiment was echoed by Rusk Mayor Pro Tem Walter Session, who recently receive a plaque from his city council for 30 years of service to the city as both a District 2 councilman and mayor pro tem.

“There's just a lot of things that we accomplished,” Session said, describing park projects and paved streets, along with securing grants to build more than a dozen homes at no cost to low-income property owners, among others. “I'm glad that the people wanted me to serve my area, because I wanted to serve my area.”

A military veteran who served a three-year stint in the Army, Session said his involvement began when he was in his 20s, helping launch the Rusk Community Organization in the late 1970s-early '80s. That group provided beautification in the area by helping senior citizens keep yards mowed and providing fruit for a local nursing home.

While the award from the city was “very surprising” – as nearly as surprising as when he and his wife Maxine were named the 2010 Rusk Citizens of the Year – the desire to help was instilled in him as a youth, as he watched older members of the community take action to better their city.

“I admired them (because he) saw how they worked in community, and how carried themselves church and community,” he said. “Those guys really did inspire me. And my dad, too, who was a hard worker. He was a good example what a man should be – I had good people in my life who inspired me, who were mentors when I was a young man.”

Both he and Mehlenbacher encouraged others to share their gifts with the community, to make it an even better place, by getting involved.

“Find something that you're interested in and say 'yes,' because people need volunteers everywhere,” Mehlenbacher said.

When volunteers provide an extra set of hands, “it lessens the responsibility of the people in the organization, and it lessens the financial responsibility of the organization, which is a big issue these days,” he added. “There are way more people needing help and fewer dollars to go out, so the more volunteers, there (more effective) these organizations can be.”

Set an example by doing things, added Session. “You get gratification from helping others, and you learn a lot, like with city council about and learning different things.

“It's beneficial to join, it's no money, and you're helping others,” he said. “I think when someone starts getting involved, they'll enjoy it. And then they can look back and see who they helped by what they did.”