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East County Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 9 months ago

'Volunteer Extraordinaire' at Bashaw Elementary in Bradenton

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Ms. Hilda has been a volunteer at William H. Bashaw Elementary since 1987. At 86, Hilda Hamrick remains as sure as the mail.
by: Andrew Atkins Staff Writer

Visitors looking for a parking spot at William H. Bashaw Elementary School might notice the sign in front of one of the spaces.

“Reserved Parking for Ms. Hilda,” the sign reads. “Bashaw Volunteer Extraordinaire.”

Who is Ms. Hilda? Ask the secretaries. Or the teachers. Or the students. Or anybody who has passed through the doors of the school since 1987, when Hilda Hamrick — Ms. Hilda — began volunteering.

"It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, she does it with a great smile."

— Alison Kendzior, Senior Secretary 

Staff members had nothing but kind words about Hamrick, who turns 86 on Feb. 27 and still shows up to volunteer at the school for a few hours five days a week.

Alison Kendzior, senior secretary at the school, put it this way: “If the kids are here, she’s here.” 

From the chairs near the front desk, visitors can’t see where Hamrick works, but a steady string of employees and children walking through the office lets folks know she’s there.

“Hi, Ms. Hilda,” says one student. “Good morning, Ms. Hilda,” chirps a staff member.

Hamrick began volunteering when her grandson, David Hamrick, started at the school in 1987. She helped sort mail and corral the kids. These days, she mainly handles the mail, but another one of her grandchildren, Ryan Meiler, who attended in the late 1990s, said she used to be known as the “singing lady” when he was in school, singing hymns or Christmas songs if the season was right. These days, David Hamrick is a nurse practitioner, and Ryan Meiler owns his own landscaping company.

Hamrick’s daughter, Sarah Meiler, is a fifth-grade teacher at the school.

Susan Meiler stands with her son, Ryan Meiler, behind her grandson Daniel Meiler and mother Hilda Hamrick.

“It’s very special that I do get to see her every day,” Sarah Meiler said. “She’s here every morning with a smile.”

Hamrick said she keeps coming back because the school is like a second family for her. The community rallied behind her when she fought colon cancer in 2003 and again when her husband, Jennings, died last year in January.

“It just keeps me going,” Hamrick said of her work. “It’s what’s keeping me alive.”

Hamrick stays humble in her work.

“Just little odds and ends that I can do to help out,” she said. “I don’t think they give me enough to do.”

But to Kendzior, the work Hamrick does is anything but little.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, she does it with a great smile,” Kendzior said.

Kendzior said  Hamrick eagerly picks up any slack around the school’s office and is there to assist anyone who might need a little extra help.

The difference Hamrick makes, Kendzior said, is the world.

“She’s a fixture at this school. Everybody knows Ms. Hilda,” she said.

And Hamrick’s family history in the school spans four generations.

Daniel Meiler, a 5-year-old pre-K student at Bashaw, gets joy out of Hamrick’s presence because he gets to see her whenever he wants. He makes sure he tells other students that’s his great-grandma.

Daniel loves her a lot, he said, and he also loves going to her house because she always has chocolate chip cookies.

Speaking of sweets, Kendzior said Hamrick is known to remember someone’s favorite treat and bring in cakes or other goodies for them.

“If she’s not here, we’re wondering why she’s not here,” Kendzior said.

And for Ms. Hilda, who said she loves everyone at the school, the time she volunteers doesn’t really feel like work.

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