By Jan Landau Lewin
Tom Umstead volunteers so many hours at the Dorothy Benson Complex that many folks assume he is a paid employee.
After logging about 22 hours a week at the senior center, the unassuming Umstead was named the center’s 2010 Volunteer of the Year. He’s won the award for six years in a row.
“What makes Umstead so special is that he gives without asking,” said Andre Gregory, senior services manager at the center. “He fills the voids unconditionally and doesn’t ask for much, which is the true essence of a volunteer.”
The Sandy Springs Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex is one of four senior centers constructed by Fulton County to serve senior citizens. It has programs designed for active, semi-active and dependent seniors, and offers classes in a variety of areas including in education, nutrition, health, wellness, aquatics, land fitness, socialization and recreation. The center also has a full-service cafeteria that offers discounted meals to seniors.
With a smile from ear to ear, dressed like he is ready to go to work in a business office, Tom admits he loves to give his time to the center. He showed up at the center’s opening about 10 years ago, and someone asked him if he knew how to run a kiln, a very hot oven used to fire clay pieces.
Even though he had no idea how it worked, he offered to learn. On his own, he contacted a specialist at Georgia Tech, and spent about five hours learning the process. Ten years later, the center still uses his specifications to run the kiln. When he has time, he molds vases and other objects for seniors to paint. He also leads bingo or works in the kitchen several times a week serving lunch.
At age 77, Umstead seems nowhere near ready to slow down. He wakes at 5:30 a.m. and by 6:30 a.m. he is in his car. He picks up baked goods or flowers to deliver to the Benson Complex, Scottish Rite Hospital or the Ronald McDonald houses, where they call him “Mr. Tom.”
“I just love the smiles I get when I deliver muffins and pies to the nurses, “ Umstead said. “They work so hard every day, and don’t even have time to stop and enjoy a minute.”
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Tom spends about 40 hours a week volunteering his time, but he doesn’t like to make a big deal of it. “I try to be very low key about my volunteering,” he said. “I am so blessed and my children are so blessed every day with so much in life.”
He makes sure to spend time at the Sandy Springs Mission and at his church.
About 12 years ago, Tom retired from a business career in sales and management. For the last 10 years, he worked at Blue Cross/ Blue Shield of Georgia selling health insurance. He chuckles when he recalls that he retired with more than 3,000 clients.
He is still married to his first sweetheart, Lucretia, and has three grown children. He has lived the last 40 years in Sandy Springs.