Belzer heads back to Kansas to apply her volunteer spirit to family

Ruth Belzer stands by one of her prized possessions, an original mouth painting by her nephew, the late Kevin Bunch.

A volunteer’s volunteer, Ruth Belzer, is leaving Albia, moving back to Lawrence, Kan., to help care for her youngest sister who is undergoing kidney dialysis. It is the second time Belzer moved to the J-Hawk state. She and her late husband, Harold, moved to Lawrence to be closer to Harold’s son and two grandchildren.

Ruth laughs when she talks about her family. Harold’s son, her step-son, is married to her youngest sister, which makes him Ruth’s brother-in-law and her step-grandchildren are also her great nieces and nephews.

Ruth and Harold were in Lawrence from 1991 to 2002, got to enjoy their grandchildren playing sports and doing school activities, but moved back home when Harold became ill with heart problems. After he died in 2004, she devoted herself to volunteering for the community.

“I was 70 years old, this community (she’s a 1951 Lovilia High School graduate) had given me a good education and treated my family well and I felt it was time to give back.” She made a vow that as long as her health held up, she would do community service.

She had a long career with Morrell, Hormel and McCurdy Seed as an early computer operator, doing payroll and business accounting and billing. One of the first volunteer opportunities that came up was working with SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program), which guides seniors through the sometimes difficult issues of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

When Ruth worked for a Kansas nursing home she did Medicare and Medicaid billing and when the Monroe County Hospital sponsored SHIIP program was announced, needing volunteers, she thought it would be a perfect fit for her abilities. She was the first to take the 30 hours of training in 2004 and began enrolling area seniors in Medicare D programs in 2005, serving for 14 and a half years. Seven of those years she worked solo until Kathy Griffin and Martha Hornick were trained.

Griffin plans to stay on as Belzer leaves.

In all, Belzer estimates she worked with 3,000 different Medicare sign-ups (some with the same clients), with a savings of $250,000 for those area seniors. “My biggest year was in 2007 when we saw savings of $207,000,” she said.

The 88-year-old got the nickname “The Bag Lady” because of the big blue bag she carried around with current enrollment information. Sometimes she worked seven days straight and even “plowed through” a bout with Graves Disease, caused by an overactive thyroid. “I shouldn’t have kept going through that,” she said.

Her work with Medicare recipients isn’t the only volunteer efforts she did. Family has always come first with Belzer and when her brother’s son, Kevin Bunch, was paralyzed from the neck down from a diving accident, she worked tirelessly with him as he fought to establish independence. He became a renowed mouth painter and the two originals he painted were some of the last things volunteers from the Albia football team removed from her walls at Parkview and placed in the U-Haul taking her to Lawrence.

“Some people thought I did too much for Kevin,” she said. “But it was a privilege to work with him. He was the most interesting person I think I’ve ever known.”

She was also active with the Monroe County Hospital Auxiliary and Hospice of Monroe County as well as her First Christian Church. The ladies fitness group at her church is something she will miss most.

“Albia is a wonderful town,” she said. “I will miss this community dearly.”