John Rheinberger won the 2019 Washington County Fair Outstanding Male Volunteer Award. 

John Rheinberger, 71, is a well-documented globetrotter. The Stillwater attorney is also an active community member. Last year, he won the 2019 Washington County Fair Outstanding Male Volunteer Award. This year he was presented with Community Thread’s 2020 Lifetime Volunteer Community Involvement Award honoring his over six decades of service to our community.

Until last year, he never really viewed himself as a volunteer.

“People say what I do is volunteering and I sometime receive recognition and prestigious awards for it, but being involved is such a big part of my life - which has occurred for so long - that I really never separated it from who I am as a person,” Rheinberger said.

John’s philanthropic endeavors began at the impressionable age of nine. His parents encouraged him to find ways to help Stillwater residents with whatever they might need. From the start, his parents had one firm rule: he was not to accept any type of payment for his help.

With that, the foundation of a true volunteer had Rheinberger laid. While his peers played sports and other outdoor games, John helped his neighbors with household projects. He picked up many skills by helping others.

Then, in March of this year when the spread of COVID-19 became more prevalent, all of John’s traditional methods for volunteering “vanished.” At first, opportunities were delayed and then canceled. Zoom and phone calls became his new volunteer venues.

While at the same time remaining optimistic things would soon return to “normal,” he felt lost and empty.

“Volunteering has always been a major life tenet for me. I know the need for volunteerism is greater than ever but I realize my age will prevent me from doing things I would never have thought twice about in the past,” Rheinberger said.

Still, with mask and other precautions on his mind, John continues to seek out ways to continue to volunteer.

Within the time since he began his “career” in volunteerism, John has visited every country in the world — many of them multiple times — and he has earned six college degrees.

“Much like traveling, volunteering opens your world views and brings new adventures,” Rheinberger said. “My volunteering also enhanced my education because it exposed me to situations that I could have only learned about from books.”

Rheinberger offers this advice to young people who aspire to volunteer: “It is important to be engaged with others in-person, beyond a technology connection,” He said. “Ideally, volunteering should begin at a young age even if that means tagging along with a parent, relative, or trusted friend who is volunteering.”

Rheinberger believes volunteering at a young age gives a person the opportunity to learn and build on skills such as leadership, problem-solving and public speaking.

“You can discover and perhaps pursue passions that may end up as careers,” he said. “Starting young will increase the chances that volunteering will become a part of your life and help broaden your views of the world in general No matter what your age, volunteering enriches a person’s free time and adds a stress-free balance to one’s life.”

Louisa Westrup is a Stillwater native and a student at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

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