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Chuck VanNatta stands on his 100-tree orchard of apple, peach, pear and plum trees southeast of Columbus as a man who knows how to bloom where he is planted.
“I’ve had a four-word mission in life,” he said. “Love and do good.”
It would take many more words to adequately describe how the 83-year-old New Salem native has fulfilled that goal.
For starters, he helped launch the Retirement Foundation of Bartholomew County in the 1950s and the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches in the 1960s. He also helped start the popular Music At Asbury concert series that sometimes attracts a full house with varied performers, from the Singing Hoosiers to ex-Miss America Katie Stamm.
For those contributions and a lengthy list of community involvement that could wind through a long path on his orchard, VanNatta has been named the 2013 Joan Pearcy Senior Citizen of the Year by Columbus’ Mill Race Center.
The award, named in honor of a longtime Mill Race leader and board member, annually honors a Bartholomew County resident age 60 or older for a lifetime of volunteerism.
VanNatta will receive the award at a reception from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday at the Mill Race Center, 900 Lindsey St., Columbus.
Enthusiasm and exuberance
VanNatta shook his head recently over the honor. He said too many others are more worthy of the attention.
His wife Janet, seated nearby in the sunroom of their home on Ridgewood Drive, disagreed.
She has shared his time with community groups for most of their 59-year
“He has gotten to see the baby steps of a lot of organizations as they were just starting,” she said.
In fact, he has made sure those baby steps were sure and firm. His service on various boards grew after leadership at the Reeves Pulley
Co., where he served as assistant personnel director beginning in 1960, urged workers to be involved in the community.
“I think you just naturally pick up more enthusiasm for these things as you go,” VanNatta said.
Nomination forms for the award spotlight VanNatta’s ability to lead others with that enthusiasm and exuberance — an approach that he called “never missing an opportunity to celebrate.”
But before he agreed to talk about his accomplishments recently, he asked a guest to please make time for Janet, a longtime pianist, to play “The Way We Were” on her clavinova. He eventually beamed through the whole, flowing piece.
Later, in his driveway, VanNatta said his previous hourlong attempt to explain his leadership of everything from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bartholomew County to the Meridian Kiwanis Club has hardly been about him and his remarkable abilities.
‘The right woman’
“It’s — it’s her,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion and his eyes moist with tears. “You see, I really married a really good woman — the right woman.”
Within that lifelong relationship comes perhaps
VanNatta’s most selfless action, away from public
When degenerative disc disease over the years stole Janet’s ability to stand and cook easily, he jumped in and learned culinary and baking skills now so polished that he teaches a pie-baking class for the local Partners in Education program.
Plus, he readies much of the food at the Asbury United Methodist Church’s annual Valentine’s Gala.
During the recent conversation about his award, VanNatta was all too happy to serve a bowl of peach soup that tasted like a creative combination of an appetizer and dessert.
Columbus’ Marion Huseby was among those nominating VanNatta for the honor, calling him “a true-blue friend for life.”
“Chuck supports all those around him, helping where needed, even lending his pickup to one and all,” Huseby said.
Others have noticed the same thing.
“Most of the miles on his truck have been put on it by those using it in a time of need,” said Columbus’ Charlie Byers.
VanNatta, who buried son Craig too early in 1988 after a battle with bipolar disorder, knows heartache.
However, VanNatt said he is determined to live in the present.
“You’ve got to find a way to move forward,” he said.
And so he does, all the while helping others.
“I think at some point, you have to ask yourself, ‘What makes me happy?’” VanNatta said.
It just so happens what makes Chuck VanNatta happy is, well, making others happy.
By loving and doing good.
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