There are many different paths that can lead to becoming a volunteer. The road to Jim Goldammer’s volunteer journey began over a decade ago when his father—Jim Sr.—moved to St. John’s Meadows in 2007. Around that time, Jim Sr. had begun sharing details of his experiences in the Pacific during World War II with his son. “He finally started telling me those stories in his last five years,” says Jim Jr. of his father’s accounts as a pilot taking off from the U.S.S. Wasp. He was amazed to hear about his dad’s participation in bombing missions that targeted places like Iwo Jima and mainland Japan.
When Jim Sr. died in 2010, his son was grateful his father was able to pass along his personal stories and perspectives from a time unlike any other in world history. Soon after his death, Jim decided to begin a project to commemorate his father’s military service. He created a framed keepsake that paired photos of his dad during World War II with a write-up of highlights from his time in the Pacific. “I had wanted to do it for a long time,” Jim says about the project, noting that he wished he had done it before his father’s passing. “To this day, I am very proud of him.”
Over the next few years, the perfect storm of circumstances resulted in Jim returning to St. John’s in 2018. Clearly his family’s ties to St. John’s were already strong; in addition to his dad’s time living at St. John’s Meadows, his sister—Lynne Tobin—worked at St. John’s for 39 years before retiring in 2016. In the meantime, Jim’s desire for helping veterans tell their stories only intensified. He even met with other men who had served with his father, sharing accounts and photos during listening sessions that lasted hours. These experiences fueled his passion to do more—a common theme for those who choose to volunteer their time and energy to a cause or undertaking. “I had always wanted to honor veterans in some way,” says Jim, who also felt a growing sense of urgency for those who served in the same conflict as his father. “What is sad is that they are coming of age and they are not going to be with us that much longer.”
Another development helped spur Jim’s desire to chronicle these stories: his blossoming interest in photography. He decided to approach Chantel Foster—resident life director at St. John’s—to suggest a project that could impact the lives of veterans living in the community where his father had spent the end of his life. The timing turned out to be perfect: a new collaboration with St. John’s Fisher College provided a stipend for veterans-related initiatives. While Jim would donate his time to this project, this new funding could be used to cover any costs associated with developing a finished product that veterans from St. John’s Meadows and Brickstone could hold onto and share with their loved ones.
Jim went right to work, donating two hour blocks of his time to meet with over a dozen military veterans living at St. John’s. He noticed that there was some initial hesitation from some of the veterans who felt their wartime accounts were less harrowing than others, but Jim was able to offer reassurance. “I tell everyone that if you signed up, you were willing at that point to give your life,” explains Jim. “That, in itself, says something about the type of person you are.” He reiterates with the people he meets with that they owe it to themselves to pass these accounts on to their family members, regardless of whether they saw action or not.
By the end of October 2018, Jim had spent close to 30 hours conducting intimate conversations with nearly a dozen individual veterans of 20th century wars. The culmination of these discussions was the creation of framed keepsakes, complete with biography statements and photographs. What sets these pieces apart from the one he created for his late father several years ago is the inclusion of current photographs of each veteran, each taken by Jim.
By Veteran’s Day, ten of these framed pieces were hanging in the Briarwood Foyer, giving residents and visitors the opportunity to learn more about the sacrifice their neighbors made decades ago. “It is wonderful for the community to have a greater appreciation of who these men were, who they still are,” says Chantel Foster, speaking to the lasting impact Jim’s volunteer project is able to bring. “What a wonderful gift for them to keep and treasure.”
Over the past couple of months, Jim has since met with even more St. John’s veterans and created personal keepsakes as a product of their time together. His latest piece was done for Eleanor Porter—a nurse who served in the Navy during World War II. He has also begun taking on other projects, including taking pictures of new residents at St. John’s Meadows and Brickstone. “He is such a wonderful volunteer,” Foster adds.
Jim Goldammer, Jr. plans to continue his volunteer service in 2019, possibly extending his work with veterans to residents living at St. John’s Home. “In some ways, I think I got more out of this than even they did,” says Jim of being able to listen to residents and help tell their stories. “It really brought something out in me. I can see this going on—somewhere for me—for the rest of my life.”
Interested in volunteering at St. John’s? Check out all of the great opportunities to contribute: https://www.stjohnsliving.org/about/volunteer/