Couple's volunteerism earns accolades from the Knights of Columbus at the state level.
Burned out after years of volunteer work, John and Regina Joly moved to their new home of Lakewood Ranch six years ago with the thought of living a nice, peaceful retirement.
When it came to volunteer efforts, they had been there, done that. John was active in his church in Riverside, Calif., with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. Regina, who was active with the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, was in charge of her church's environmental projects.
They were a force, Regina learning of volunteer projects and then pulling John into service. They lived a life of giving back.
"When you help others, you become a better version of yourself," Regina said from her Lakewood Ranch home on Lake Uihlein.
John began to feel a bit irked, though, about the "20% of the people do 80% of the work" nature of volunteerism. They needed a break, and for a year, they concentrated on themselves.
Newly retired when he arrived in Lakewood Ranch, John thought he would do a little consulting work, play some golf and enjoy some fishing.
Then the couple found Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Lakewood Ranch and John met those involved with the Lakewood Ranch Council of the Knights of Columbus. The break was over.
Inspired by the energy and devotion of their fellow parishioners and Knights, the Jolys were back in the volunteer business.
Their efforts were recognized May 30 at the Florida State Council of the Knights of Columbus State Convention at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando as they were named the state's "Family of the Year" for their efforts over the previous 12 months. The state organization has 55,000 members.
As they walked to the stage in front of more than 1,000 attendees, they felt shocked, grateful and a bit unworthy.
"There are thousands of people who do what we do every day," John said.
Fellow Knights of Columbus member and Our Lady of the Angels parishioner Francis Shea said the couple was more than deserving of the award. He pointed to the couple's involvement in myriad projects such as Special Olympics, Food for Families and blood drives, as well as their work with the Knights' involvement on 14 projects with Habitat for Humanity.
When Hurricane Irma came through Florida, the couple worked with fellow Knights and church members to collect supplies, including food, clothing and cash, for victims in Wauchula.
Shea said there were fish fries, egg hunts, ministry work and church projects.
When the parish needed a Santa, John came to the rescue.
"Those who get things done usually get more work," Shea said. "You lean on the people who do the most. It's unfair."
The Jolys don't feel any burden, especially since so many of their fellow church members have stepped forward to help. But will they get burned out again?
"That's what our friends tell us," Regina said. "But we don't go on cruises and we like our life. We are blessed in a lot of ways. The more we give, the more we get."
While Regina was the driving force behind their volunteerism in California, she said John now "sucks her into" projects these days and is "involved in everything."
Shea said John is more than involved, and often leads others into action. What makes him so effective?
"It's pretty simple," Shea said. "John is highly intelligent, very active, and has good instincts about people. He wants to do good things.
"He has taken on some hard projects, and not only has gotten involved, but has been a shining star."
Shea told a story about how John had tried to enlist the help of one parish member for several projects without any luck. He kept trying, though, and eventually succeeded with the parish member becoming a highly successful volunteer.
"John found a way to connect with him," Shea said. "He is like that. He will get to know you, and when you talk to him, he listens. He wants to know your answers. He's the guy who gets you to buy in."
He also said John's effectiveness has to do with his willingness to work in the trenches alongside those he enlists to volunteer. When it comes time to use a pick or shovel on a Habitat project, he is right there.
"He doesn't sit out front with a baton," Shea said.
Shea said he wanted to make it clear that Regina is an equal part of their achievements. "She keeps John efficient," Shea said. "And she always is there."
John and Regina, both born in Middletown, N.Y., are 69 and their good health means they will continue to volunteer as much as possible. John is a former Unisys comptroller while Regina worked as a teacher, secretary and eventually owned her own florist shop. He still plays golf when he can, as well as fishes. She loves her water aerobics class.
John will become the Deputy Grand Knight on July 1 and he looks forward to future projects.
"If you have passion, people will be attracted to it," he said.
Shea looks forward to the future as well, and he isn't worried about the Jolys burning out.
"Some people have a high threshold," he said. "They can handle a lot."