Satisfying self and community

Choosing things they truly believe in keeps the Keatts coming back for more volunteer work.

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Robert and Linnea Keatts heard some advice a while back that they took to heart:

"Don't volunteer anywhere for a year after you retire. Find yourself. Find your new schedule. Then find organizations you believe in."

They heeded it, then found many organizations to believe in around the Walla Walla Valley.

If variety is the spice of life, the Keatts are well seasoned.

A desire for new experiences while helping others permeated Robert Keatts' employment, as it now does in his volunteer work. Now at age 66, Keatts stays just as busy as he wants to be, while promoting goodwill and friendship.

The couple has stepped up to fill needs in several capacities for many years, including hosting students and chaperones from other countries. They got involved in Walla Walla's Sister City program, hosting adult chaperones with groups from Sasayama, Japan.

"It's important in learning about other cultures to gain a better understanding of others," he said. "So ultimately perhaps we can live together in peace. I was in the military, stationed in Japan, and I just fell in love with the culture."

Since 1989 they have hosted 37 exchange students.

"Originally they were all from Norway, then later we got involved with the Sister City program," he said.

The variety in his work background includes occupations ranging from dry land and irrigated farming to working at the Fort Walla Walla Museum store. Personal satisfaction with his work has always been a top priority.

"Whatever I did, I wanted to be happy doing it. I could decide to make it happy or I could find something else," he said. "So I've done lots of things.

"When people would ask me what I wanted to do to be a productive member of society I would just say, ‘being happy.' Most of them never understood that. It has to do with my sense of humor. Sometimes you just have to make a joke out of your job. Although sometimes the employer may not appreciate that."

After retiring from the museum store, he continued with activities to help others through volunteer work. This year he volunteered for the first time helping out with the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and he's glad he did it. It was "a brand new experience," he said. "It was on a whim, I'd do it again, in a minute."

He signed up for a variety of tasks. He helped clean the community building and set up the display of royalty court costumes for the 75th anniversary. The Dutch Oven Cook Off area needed to be set up, food served and then cleaned up.

He also trained to work as an alcohol monitor in the beer garden.

"There were no major issues; we'd just monitor the crowd," Keatts said. "When we saw someone who appeared intoxicated we'd go over there and have a conversation with them. It really was a good crowd."

Like most volunteers, he thrives on solid teamwork in an organization and appreciation from the top. He learned that from working with volunteers when he was employed at Fort Walla Walla Museum store.

"Without them I would have gone nuts," he said.

He gives fairgrounds General Manager Cory Hewitt and the fair's board of directors high marks on effort, organizational skills and generosity with compliments.

"It's amazing to see how hard the staff works," he said. "Cory is an amazing woman … She can delegate and not get in the way of people doing their jobs. And the board of directors would come up and thank the volunteers. It was so nice knowing we're appreciated."

One thing Keatts appreciates when asked to volunteer is a bit of advance notice for potential projects, so he can plan. Although retired he's plenty busy, "I have a schedule," he said. "Remember you can control your workload."

His advice to people interested in volunteering locally is to first do one of two things:

"Approach the organization you're interested in or possibly contact RSVP at the Senior Center," he said.

The personal payback, he said, is something everyone seeks.

"It makes you feel good," he said.

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