Longtime local volunteer turns tuneful for senior audience

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/8/19

PITTSBORO — For Don Lein, retired IBM executive and Chatham resident for going on three decades, volunteering comes easily and naturally. It’s a “way of life,” he said.

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Longtime local volunteer turns tuneful for senior audience

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PITTSBORO — For Don Lein, retired IBM executive and Chatham resident for going on three decades, volunteering comes easily and naturally.

It’s a “way of life,” he said.

“My philosophy,” said Lein, “was succinctly expressed by John Donne in 1624 in his famous quotation: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’”

For his vibrant volunteer spirit, Lein, who is 85, credits not only the influence of his parents (his father, for instance, was an elected town official in New York for nearly 40 years) and the times in which he grew up, when sacrifice and selflessness during the hard years of the second World War were part of the American fabric.

“There wasn’t anything that wasn’t affected by the war,” he said, “and everyone made sacrifices. You certainly got those lessons out of World War II. The world was very much with you then and you were aware what a very small speck you were in this great big galaxy.”

Those lessons stuck.

Employed as a litigation consultant with IBM when he and his wife, Marian, moved to Chatham County 27 years ago, buying a house just east of Jordan Lake, he retired from the tech giant eight months after they settled into their new home.

“Shortly after I retired,” Lein recalled, “I visited the ranger headquarters [at the lake] and asked what I could help with as a volunteer.”

That modest query soon led to the creation, with Lein’s guiding help, of a Community Advisory Board, which he chaired for a couple of years, and was the genesis of a 27-year record of volunteer service in Chatham County.

That record includes volunteer duties with the Council on Aging (he and Marian chaired the annual “Taste of Chatham” event which raised funds to pay for the county’s East and West senior centers), the Senior Games, the Boys & Girls Clubs and the recently-dissolved Chatham Parks Foundation, a group he chaired for two decades which raised money for new county parks and raised public awareness of the need for them.

“When we shut it down recently,” said Lein, “we donated approximately $100,000 to the county to be used for parks in the future.”

With his 86th birthday approaching soon after the new year, Lein — who took up running in his 40s and became a distinguished competitive runner in his 50s (he also helped establish the annual Reindeer Run running event in Pittsboro, returning for the 15th year next month) — shows no sign of letting up.

In fact, he’s recently undertaken a new — and somewhat unusual — volunteer duty: singing.

For the past few months, Don and Marian — Don handling vocal duties, Marian accompanying her husband on piano — have been entertaining seniors for a once-monthly program of old songs, mostly show tunes, at the East Chatham Senior Center.

It began as an offshoot of his close involvement in the Senior Games when he was having a conversation with one of its organizers. It came up in conversation that Lein, in addition to being a willing volunteer, could also carry a tune. He mentioned he and Marian had played and sung for a Rotary group when they lived in New York and the performances had been well-received.

And he’d had experience singing in churches, mostly as a soloist, but also as part of a choir or two. Working with IBM, he had re-located eight times, joining a church in each new community and “each time I’d wind up in church singing.”

For the seniors utilizing the services of the Chatham County Council on Aging, he and his wife combed through their collection of old sheet music culled from Don’s mother’s collection and with those songs as a starting point, they took their act to the Senior Center.

Their audience of Chatham County seniors approved.

“They said ‘You were a hit! Come back!’ So we did,” Lein said.

He said he aims to make the program interactive. He and Marian run through a dozen or more songs, each followed up with questions and answers. Who sang it originally? What Broadway show is it from?

Often, Lein will throw in a little back story about the music. The Kingston Trio’s hit “Tom Dooley,” for example, is part of the Lein’s repertoire and the folk song, he said, is firmly rooted in North Carolina, being a musical recounting of the 1866 murder of Laura Foster in Wilkes County. He throws in that kind of trivia.

The Leins carefully select their song choices, gearing them towards their audience and the occasion. They’re busy now planning and upcoming Thanksgiving program, searching for songs about thankfulness.

Performing for an older audience, some with memory issues, Lein said he aims to “include them and get them thinking about what you’re singing. You want to engage them in a sort of a mental exercise and have good interplay with them. And they really get into it. We’ve been going back each month.”

The Leins, in fact, are part of a large group of local volunteers, and he says it’s good company to keep.

“It’s rewarding to share your devotion to making things happen,” he said. “You do it so others live well and are happier, and at the end of the day, that’s the greatest high you can get.”

Dennis Streets, the executive director of the Chatham County Council on Aging, says volunteers — like Don and Marian Lein — not only greatly enhance the work of the Council, they’re integral to the program.

“We certainly need people to help with activities at both of our centers,” he said.

Streets said approximately 300 people volunteer in various capacities with the Council on Aging’s East Senior Center (in Pittsboro) and West Senior Center (in Siler City) and additional volunteer help is always needed. Those needs range from clerical duties like answering the telephone to delivering meals through the Council’s Meals on Wheels program, which runs 12 routes and currently has a need for drivers, particularly in the western half of the county. Allison Andrews is the Council on Aging’s Volunteer Coordinator and may be reached for inquiries about volunteering with the agency at allison.andrews@chathamcouncilonaging.org.

Of the rewards of volunteering, Lein is certain.

“Idle hands are the devil’s playground,” he said. “Nonetheless, we receive more than we give.”

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.


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