Irma "Lorie" Williams is the type of person who seems to always wear her heart on her sleeve and a smile on her face.
Perhaps that's part of the reason why Mrs. Williams, a lifelong Hephzibah resident, was honored recently in Philadelphia by the American Veterans Association for her volunteer efforts at local Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.
It's something she's been doing for 30 years.
"I strongly believe it's because of our veterans that we are able to live the American dream," Mrs. Williams said. "They gave us the freedom to do everything we do. It's something that should never be taken for granted."
Each VA hospital in the country - more than 150 - nominated someone to receive the award. Mrs. Williams was the sole recipient.
On Aug. 18, in front of 1,500 members of the American Veterans Association, Mrs. Williams accepted the volunteer of the year award. It was handed to her by Miss America, Heather French.
"I believe you can always find some way to help," she told the veterans gathered at the annual convention. "I can always give to them because they gave so much."
To qualify for the award, Ms. Williams had to have spent more than 20,000 hours volunteering in 1999. She did much more than that.
Four times a year, she brings disabled veterans to her home, a farm, and gives them a picnic, lets them ride her horses and takes them to the flowing wells adjacent to her property. Her three children, her husband and some of her grandchildren pitch in and help make the events as entertaining as possible.
Janice Kennedy nominated Mrs. Williams for the American Veterans award. Ms. Kennedy, the chief of voluntary services at the Augusta VA Medical Center, said Mrs. Williams "always puts the veterans first in everything she does."
Ms. Kennedy said Mrs. Williams organizes dances in February and at Christmas. She sponsors luncheons and brings gifts for the patients.
"The veterans love to see her coming," Ms. Kennedy said. "We couldn't do a lot of the things we do without her."
Mrs. Williams shrugs off the accolades. She said she feels as though she owes the veterans - not just the ones who served in conflicts - for everything she has.
"It makes me feel good in my heart to help," Mrs. Williams said. "They would not be in the shape they're in if they didn't serve their country."
Mrs. Williams, 57, is a volunteer dynamo: She serves on the Housing and Neighborhood Development Department's Citizens Advisory Board - helping to bring affordable housing to Augusta - and she volunteers at Golden Harvest Food Bank - helping feed the hungry.
She has volunteered at the food bank for 10 years.
"I try to instill in my children the importance of giving back," she said. "You have so much, you know; you shouldn't take it for granted."
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.
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