T he first presidential inauguration speech Granville’s Roger Ellis said he can remember is John F. Kennedy’s “Ask Not what your country can do for you …” in 1961.
The speech clearly made a difference for the now 58-year-old veterinarian, as years later he’s still helping other people and asking for nothing in return.
“I’d like to encourage everybody to become involved. You help people but you get unbelievable experiences in return when you volunteer,” Ellis said.
He should know.
Ellis recently traveled to Washington D.C., to be recognized for his volunteer efforts as a part of two organizations: Veterinarians Without Borders and Farmer to Farmer.
Having traveled to a number of different countries, including Russia and Liberia in Africa, Ellis has spent decades as a volunteer.
The award he personally received, the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, came as a complete surprise to Ellis as he’d gone to the nation’s capital with Ohio veterinarian Dr. Julie Hunt to represent Veterinarians Without Borders.
Ellis said he had gone to Washington when the “Borders” board president could not attend the event, having no idea he would be receiving an award meant for him personally.
“It’s very meaningful to me because the feeling I have about volunteering in all respects really comes from (the JFK speech), so it’s humbling to receive an award from our current president who shares some of those same views,” Ellis said.
Locally, Ellis is a member of the Granville Lions Club; coming back to Granville after receiving the award, Ellis said he realized he has been a volunteer with that organization for 33 years as a part of clubs in three different towns, in Vermont, Michigan and here in New York state.
During the difficult times facing the nation currently and at other times in the country’s history, Ellis said, he knows volunteerism and coming together as a people are what will help everyone get through them.
“Obviously volunteering is very important for our community,” he said. “The benefits are unlimited.”
For Ellis, volunteering, whether it takes him to the Lions’ furniture warehouse on Main Street or South America, Asia or Africa, is all about people getting to know other people while helping them out.
Ellis said he had many examples, particularly from every international trip he has taken as a veterinarian. On one of his trips to Russia, Ellis recalled speaking to a goat farmer at a farm about 100 miles outside of Moscow.
As the men got to know each other while chatting about the herd, they realized they were the same age and had been on opposite sides of events such as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as they grew up.
As they talked both men said they looked to their leaders at the time as heroes because they chose to talk instead of taking action that could have led to a catastrophic war.
“We could have been fighting each other,” he said.
They also talked about where they were when they heard Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
Ellis said it meant a lot to hear from a Russian that people in that “enemy” country, too, were saddened by the news to the killing.
“It’s unbelievable to have someone tell you that news … that’s one of the benefits of this,” he said.
“That’s why I think it’s so important for more people to get out and (volunteer); it helps U.S. citizens to get more educated about the world and I always feel lucky to live here when I come home,” Ellis said.