Heart of Gold Awards go to individuals who touching the hearts of others through their volunteerism and other acts of kindness.
Ken Maddin, Jerry Hacker, and Diane Bender are the DCF 2021 Heart of Gold Award recipients. Photos provided.
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - The Dearborn Community Foundation, Inc. (DCF) is honoring three community volunteers as 2021 recipients of the Heart of Gold Award for touching the hearts of others through their volunteerism and other acts of kindness.
The Heart of Gold Award honorees deserve the recognition for making a difference in our community in their own unique ways, said Fred McCarter, Executive Director of the Dearborn Community Foundation. “They are role models for how all of us can have a positive impact on others,” he said.
The 2021 Heart of Gold honorees, nominated by a DCF committee and then chosen as Heart of Gold Award recipients by the Foundation’s board of directors, are given the privilege to serve on the “Heart of Gold Grants Committee.” Each recipient recommends a proactive grant(s) totaling $1,000 to a charitable organization(s) that serve Dearborn County residents.
This year’s honorees are Diane Bender, Jerry Hacker and Ken Maddin. The 2021 Heart of Gold Award recipients have much in common, including their humbleness about how their good works impact on the community. They also are known for being leaders who enjoy working with others to get things done to improve the community.
This year’s honorees bring the total to 115 for the number of volunteers honored in the 23 years of the program designed to recognize the community’s fine volunteers and to promote philanthropy. To learn more about these Dearborn Countians with “Hearts of Gold,” please read their stories:
Heart of Gold Honorees’ Stories
Diane Bender is known for her leadership and organizing skills to take on any challenge to help others in the community. Longtime friend and fellow volunteer, Karen Blasdel, says Bender’s “heart allows her to identify a community need and then she sets her mind to lend her hand where and when she can help that need.”
Blasdel, a former DCF Board member, met Bender more than 20 years ago, serving on various committees under the honoree’s leadership. “Her organizational skills are absolutely the best when it comes to running an event,” said Blasdel. “There is no end to her energy and enthusiasm.”
For many years, Bender was the key co-chairwoman of St. Teresa’s (Catholic Church, Bright) Chocolate Fest that raised $100,000 over 10 years for North Dearborn Pantry. She’s also been instrumental in making the Bunco event a huge fundraiser for the pantry, said Blasdel.
“She’s always willing to lend a hand and her generosity is contagious,” said Blasdel. “She has put together hundreds, if not thousands, of themed gift baskets to be raffled off with the hopes of raising money for someone who is down on their luck, or who has a sick child.”
Recently, along with others, Bender helped raise $45,000 for U.S. Marine Cpl. Kelsee Lainhart, Bright, who was injured in the Kabul, Afghanistan attack. Lainhart is in rehab in Chicago and the funds will help with medical-related costs.
Bender, who has been co-owner of Logan Supermart for nearly 14 years with her husband, Mike, says she really enjoys making the gift baskets to help raise funds from store customers and others for a good cause. “People will see a gift basket in the store and just ask ‘what’s the cause,’” she said. “We’re so very fortunate to have so many giving people in our community who want to help others.”
In fact, a spare change can at Logan convenience store collects a few thousand dollars annually that is donated to North Dearborn Pantry, said Bender a former pantry board member and volunteer. It’s just another way the Benders and their customers help others.
Helping others is kind of “natural thing for me and Mike. My family and Mike’s family were always active at volunteering and helping others,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to help others.” Bender learned at a young age from her grandfather and her parents how helping others was the way to go. “My grandfather was one of those folks who was always doing something for others,” she said. “He always visited nursing homes at Christmas to visit and give gifts.”
Bender has also impacted many in the community through her role as a Bright Lions Club Board member. She is currently club vice-president and Mike is president. The Lions Club is something the couple does together. They enjoy the pictures with Santa and Breakfast with the Easter Bunny events for kids, but the club also does much more like provide wheelchairs and hospital-type beds to folks throughout the region.
Bender says she enjoys working with other volunteers to make a difference in the community. “You always get more back than what you give.”
During their more than two-decades of friendship, Blasdel says Bender is still that “selfless, generous woman that truly has a heart of gold!”
Jerry Hacker is known for wearing a “Grinch” sweatshirt at Christmastime. A “Grinch” he is not, but he does have something in common with the fictional green character’s attributes at the end of that popular story: a huge heart!
Hacker, a retired former businessowner, received that sweatshirt many years ago as a joke from one his former workers at Dee’s Delights, the business he and his wife, Dee, owned and operated for many years along State Line Road. The company was a wholesale distributor that sold crafts, miniatures, and doll houses all around the world.
It seems fitting that Hacker wore that Grinch sweatshirt for years, while he was doing good works, volunteering at the Dearborn County Clearinghouse for Emergency Aid, Inc., Aurora. He was a longtime volunteer, along with his wife, for the Coalition for Children’s Christmas Toys that provided toys and more for children in need at Christmastime.
“Jerry did everything for us,” said Karry Hollan, Executive Director of the Clearinghouse. “He always went above and beyond for anyone in need.”
Hacker, a 45-year resident of Hidden Valley Lake, did more than just help with the Christmastime toy program. He was often a daily volunteer, picking up and delivering food from donors and delivering items needed by clients of the organization.
“When we moved into our new building a few years ago, Jerry was instrumental in helping us set up the building,” said Hollan. “He gave of his time and utilized the experience he had from organizing a warehouse-type building. … And, if I called him and said someone needs some food delivered to them, Jerry was on it right away.”
Hacker, who retired in 2006, began volunteering even more than the past to help keep busy. He missed the daily interaction with people and giving back to the community is something he’s always felt was important.
“I’ve always felt that I needed to give back,” said Hacker, whose single mom passed away when he was 12 years old. “Me and my two younger brothers were adopted by my aunt and uncle, and they did a good job raising us, but we didn’t have much.”
Hacker said he had a “rough life” as a kid, and he understands that there are people who are hurting and need some help. “A lot of people impacted me as a kid by the way they acted toward me. They encouraged me that I could do anything,” he said.
Hacker certainly has “given back.” Besides his volunteering at the Clearinghouse, he is a longtime Board member for former Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) which was operated by the Dearborn County Social Club. He is the president of the organization that connected senior citizens with volunteer opportunities and brought youth together with seniors. He also has served on the Board of the CIVISTA Charitable Foundation since its inception and has served more than five years on the Lawrenceburg Public Library District Board of Trustees. He’s also been a volunteer for Hillforest Historical Foundation, where Dee was a longtime Board member and still volunteers.
Hacker says he feels good about helping others. “It’s very rewarding to help others and to get to know them. Another reward is getting to know so many other volunteers.”
For about two years now, it’s been more difficult for Hacker to volunteer, as a rare autoimmune disease, Giant Cell Arteritis, has caused him to become legally blind. “I just woke up one day and was seeing double. I had lost the sight in my right eye and now I’m legally blind in both. … I really miss being able to help at the Clearinghouse, but this is the way it is.”
Hacker’s sight issue hasn’t kept him from attending Board meetings and participating in the organizations he serves. The way he serves is just different now. In fact, Hollan says from time to time she gets a call from Hacker checking in on what’s up with the pantry. “Jerry is always thinking about others,” said Hollan. “He’s got such a heart for the community!”
For Aurora resident Ken Maddin, an experience from a simple walk in the park for exercise turned into a community movement to help Dearborn County’s homeless. The longtime successful realtor with Huff Realty Indiana is now semi-retired with what’s seems to be a full-time volunteer career helping folks in his community.
A few years ago, Maddin met a homeless man in Aurora’s Lesko Park and the two connected when Maddin simply said “how are you doing?” The two then developed a relationship where they had many one-on-one talks and Maddin began doing things to help his new friend.
“He was in his seventies and had lived on the riverbank off and on most of his life,” said Maddin. “I helped him with a few things, and we talked. When the weather got cold, I helped him get an apartment. Over time, he was mostly living back on the riverbank.”
Maddin did what he could to help his friend but living on the river was what he seemed to want. About a year and a half ago, the man was found deceased in the woods. All Maddin could think was “I should’ve done more!”
Nearly two years before he met his homeless friend, Maddin and his wife, Cherie, became estranged from their daughter, which meant they couldn’t see their two granddaughters. The homeless situation and the estrangement along with semi-retirement led Maddin to get more hands-on with his giving back to the community.
First, Ken and Cherie, a former DCF Board member, started the Christmas with Friends, a gathering at Dearborn Adult Center (DAC) for anyone who is alone on Christmas Day. It’s a free event with food, fun and Christmas joy. This Christmas marks the third year of the gathering, which takes place noon to 4 p.m. at DAC.
“With the estrangement, our hearts were broken, and helping others helped to mend our hearts,” said Maddin.
Then Maddin saw a post in social media from a woman asking, “what are we doing to help the homeless?” So, he had a conversation with the woman. Next, he talked with the mayors of Lawrenceburg and Aurora about setting up a place at riverfront parks in the two cities to provide basic needs, like food, clothing, blankets and more for homeless folks.
The mayors gave Maddin the okay to place boxes at the riverfront parks and the Community Blessing Boxes initiative was born in January 2021. “The goal is to provide homeless and others with the basic needs and some hope with no judgement,” said Maddin. “So many people are working together to donate items and money to purchase needed items. It’s a wonderful thing!”
Maddin regularly updates the Community Blessing Boxes Facebook group with how things are going with the community initiative. He shares stories about how the network of volunteers and donors are helping make a difference for those in need 365 days a year. Stories range from helping folks with basic needs, like food or blankets when it’s cold, to getting a bed for a woman scheduled for back surgery who had been sleeping on the floor.
For many years, Maddin was the type of community minded person who mostly flew under the radar, making donations to help worthy causes, but with his wife’s retirement and semi-retirement, there’s also a hands-on approach. “Now, I have more time,” he said. “I think also that COVID helped me realize there are other things I can do to help people.”
Maddin is also a founding board member, vice president, of a new 501(c) (3) charitable organization in Dearborn County called The Community Project that helped folks during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Community Blessing Boxes, a Thanksgiving program called Feeding Those in Need, food and toy drives, and Christmas with Friends are among the projects of the organization. Maddin also played a major role in the recent reorganization of the Dearborn Adult Center and currently serves as the president of the organization’s volunteer board of directors.
Andrea Ewan, a 2018 Heart of Gold Award recipient and fellow The Community Project Board member, says Maddin seems to always bring joy to others no matter what he’s experiencing personally. “I’ve never met someone with as big a heart as Ken,” she said. “He took something personal he is dealing with and made it into an event to help other people who are alone at Christmas. Most people would not have the heart and mind to do that.”