One of West Union’s most active lifelong volunteers is Jim Bottelberghe. He and his wife, Julie, have lived there since 1979, raising their five children. They now enjoy five grandchildren. In addition to that, Jim spends much of his time volunteering and helping others, in many different capacities. He gives credit for his ethic of service to his grandmother.
“She was a big volunteer,” he said. “She just couldn’t say no. She started as a candy striper in Tyler.”
Jim’s parents volunteered at church functions and in their community. They helped neighbors who needed a hand with baling straw or butchering chickens. There was a large extended family and everyone helped each other.
Jim tagged along many of these times, pitching in along with his parents and siblings. As an adult, he got started volunteering when Herman Marthaler asked if he’d like to be on the city council.
Not too long after that, “Father Donny wanted some trees cut down. Since we burned wood, it helped both of us. Volunteering just blossomed from there,” he said.
He helps with the sausage supper, lending a hand to bone out the 55 hogs used for the meal. He works on cemetery cleanup each year.
“Now, I’m on a maintenance committee, so I’m there (at church) whenever anything needs to be done,” Jim said.
He’s also an extraordinary communion minister for the shut-ins in the parish. He’s a greeter and otherwise simply helps out wherever he is needed.
“When the question is asked that there is help needed, people step up,” he said.
Jim probably doesn’t do quite as much as he used to as he edges closer to retirement. He and Julie don’t burn wood anymore, so cutting up trees is not a necessity. They also used to raise sheep, going from eight bottle-fed lambs to lambing 30 ewes. But they don’t anymore.
Starting in 1988, he managed a grocery store is Osakis. The owner sold him the store in 1999, which he in turn sold in 2011. Jim now works at Schaefer’s Market and it’s good fit.
“It’s fun coming here to work; no headaches, no phone calls, no government paperwork. I enjoy working now,” he said.
Jim continues to hold a spot on the West Union City Council. It’s just a part of his purpose of community volunteerism.
“It’s part of the satisfaction of helping someone else,” he said. “Someday I might be in a place where I need help.”
He is recalling a time a few years back when he battled stage 4 cancer at the same time he was building a garage. He had help from family, friends and neighbors at a time when he definitely needed it.
One of the things Jim does now is mow lawn and plows snow for an elderly man in Osakis.
“My mom and dad are 120 miles away and I can’t get down there much. I help him instead,” he said.
He continues to put up the flags in the park for Memorial Day. His younger brother, an ROTC student, was killed at age 18 in a car accident. He does it to honor his brother.
Jim has also added a new skill and artistic endeavor to his repertoire. Every winter he tries to make at least one quilt. His wife asks for help figuring out measurements and he figured that he could do that.
“The first quilt was about 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s usually designated for someone when I start.”
His sons each received a quilt their dad made when they graduated. Julie made the girls’ quilts.
“They are for special people in my life, who helped me out. They sometimes go to people who are down and out. I usually design the quilts,” he said.
Jim tells people to start volunteering when they are young.
“Teach your kids to serve. They learn by watching you. The payback later in life is huge,” he said. “I’ll keep doing this until I’m the one who needs a volunteer to help me.”