Icing on the cakeLeyden earns governor’s award for 35 years of service
RIVERSIDE — It came as a shock to Jim Leyden when he opened the official-looking envelope that he had received in the mail to learn he had been chosen to receive a Governor’s Volunteer Award.
Leyden said that Christine Kirkwood had nominated him for the award. He didn’t know that he had been nominated, so the letter came as a surprise. He said that he hadn’t served on several volunteer board to earn any honors, and called the award “icing on the cake.” The key to volunteerism, he said, is finding something you enjoy doing and the desire to see improvement made.
“It means getting out and working to make the community better,” he said. “It makes the community better than it already is.”
It was only 35 years of volunteering that earned him the honor, he said. He accepted the honor from Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds on June 28 at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa.
“It all started with my wife,” Leyden said with a chuckle. “She was working for the Congregate Meal Program.”
Bonnie Leyden said that when the couple had first arrived in Riverside sometime in the 1970s, she was unemployed and had joined the committee, which did several projects throughout the community. A friend was on the board at Senior Village and spoke with Bonnie Leyden about the problems finding people to serve on the board. She decided her husband would be a good fit for the board.
“I thought it would be fine,” he said. “I thought I would just volunteer for a four year term. Well, 24 years later I finally left the board.”
He said one year he was a board member, one year he was the secretary, and 22 years he was the president of the board. During that time, he said, the village went through two major remodels. He said the buildings have to be self-supporting.
After leaving the Senior Village board in 2008, Leyden moved on to the Planning and Zoning Committee for Riverside. He also participated in the community visioning program. He explained that a person from Trees Forever had trained the people on the visioning committee for 10 months.
“I just wanted to see what it was like to get into some of the city planning things,” he said. “I had never done anything like that and I was looking for something new.”
Leyden admitted to some disappointment when he got on the committee. He said that the ordinance book was about 18 years old. The committee worked to update the ordinances in the book. The process took about 18 months. The new ordinances are still in use.
At the same time, Leyden became the first chairperson for the visioning committee. The committee began working on projects such as a trail system in town and new signage. Both projects were completed — with the exception of one sign, which is on its way now — inside of two years.
Leyden said that he is concerned about the future of the community visioning program in Riverside. He said some people in town have been fighting what the committee had been trying to do and it had slowed things down. He is concerned the committee may disband. He said the current chair hadn’t been through the visioning training, which Leyden thinks he should do.
“Some of the (city) council members have decided they want to take over the community visioning,” Leyden said. “That is pretty much what happened.”
Leyden, who originally grew up in Washington and graduated from Washington High School, returned to the area to live in Riverside after three years in the military and a tour in Vietnam. He worked for Eagle Food Center in Iowa City for 30 years. He retired in 1993, but that didn’t last long. Three years later he was working for Proctor and Gamble as an account supervisor. He was there for 10 years, retiring in 2006.
“When you are working you always know what day it is,” Leyden said. “When you are retired, you have a hard time remembering what day of the week it is.”
Recently health problems have limited Leyden’s volunteerism. He said that right now he isn’t volunteering for anything, although he may return to it in the future.