Patty McKenzie ~ Volunteerism At It Best

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By Liz Premo, Atlantic News, Staff Writer

Atlantic News, Friday, March 18, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

CELEBRATING A GREAT VOLUNTEER - Hampton Community Coalition volunteers celebrated one of their own at a reception held at the Inn of Exeter in honor of Patty McKenzie, who received this year's Richard S. Lockhart Memorial Award from United Way of the Greater Seacoast. Pictured here are (from left) Sue Granahan, Dennise White, Abby Cooper, Janet Caylor, Glenn and Patty McKenzie, Nita Niemczyk, Jeannette Partridge and Katie Ells.
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]
HAMPTON -- "Holy Crow ....!"

No, it's not a sanctified scavenger, nor is it an exclamation by a comic book sidekick

It's a familiar expression that was uttered by one of Hampton's most tireless volunteers when she arrived at a reception held in her honor last Thursday at the Inn of Exeter.

The event was actually a pre-ceremony celebration hosted by a small group of people who volunteer alongside honoree Patty McKenzie, who later that evening became the recipient of the Richard S. Lockhart Memorial Award.

The award, which "is made in recognition to those who have made extraordinary contributions to enhance the quality of life in the area," was presented by the United Way of the Greater Seacoast at a special "Thank You" dinner that took place in Newmarket.

The afternoon reception came as a surprise in the midst of a rollercoaster week for McKenzie, who humbly admits she prefers to stay behind the scenes as far as her volunteer efforts are concerned. In fact, she is quick to shift the glory toward co-volunteer Nita Niemczyk, the person who nominated her in the first place.

Insisting with a chuckle that "there was a case of mistaken identity," McKenzie explains that "it was an award for longevity, but if it was for intensity, it would have gone to Nita. She's 'on' all the time; she's the go-to person."

Niemczyk is just as quick to pass the kudos right back to McKenzie.

"She is great," says Niemczyk, calling McKenzie "a role model citizen. She talks up the positive. She's one of those people that makes the place she lives in a better place. Instead of complaining, she does something. How can you not love someone like that?"

There's plenty of love — and lots of praise — to go around as far as McKenzie's co-volunteers are concerned.

"She does everything; she's incredible. I find her inspiring," says Abby Cooper, home-school coordinator at Hampton Academy Junior High School. "She's tireless. I don't think I've ever seen her without a smile, even on the worst days."

"She's an inspiration [and] very community-oriented," says Katie Ells. "She's very much behind the scenes, but in charge — and she gives the credit to everyone else."

"She does so many things; [oftentimes] nobody knows who's done them," comments Janet Caylor.

HAJH's Sue Granahan calls McKenzie "simply incredible. She's great — a wonderful community person."

"She's the world's best volunteer," says Dennise White of HAJH. "She always thinks of everyone before herself, and never asks for recognition."

Indeed, McKenzie is one of those individuals who does what she does not because she seeks credit and acclaim, but because she has a true heart for her community. The list of services and activities with which she has been involved in a volunteer capacity is extensive, and she was instrumental in the development of a number of community-based programs that are still going strong.

One such program is the Hampton Community Coalition (HCC), which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Abby Cooper recalls how "in March of 1995 [Patty] said, 'Let's go to the Galley Hatch and discuss what we can do for Hampton.' That's where it all began."

Among her many, many achievements, McKenzie is a founding member of the Hampton Success by Six Committee, which eventually led to the creation of the Hampton Child & Family program and its Village Preschool. She's a strong proponent for Hampton schools, and is a 14-year member of the PTA; in fact, she was once named NH State PTA Volunteer of the Year, and has recruited countless school volunteers through the PTA program.

"When you volunteer, you meet the nicest people in town," says McKenzie.

To her own credit, McKenzie has volunteered for many HCC projects (Applefest, Hobbs House Help Center, Emergency Food Pantry, the Free Medical Clinic at the beach); served as the key organizer of the Hampton Community Challenge Road Race; organized Candidates' Nights for Hampton's political aspirants; and is very active in the Hampton Democratic party.

"She knows her politics; she researches and remembers," comments Niemczyk.

In the midst of all her service to her community, McKenzie has successfully raised two daughters (Tara and Anna) in the lovely beachfront home she shares with her husband, Glenn, who also happens to be her biggest supporter.

"Whenever I need his help, no matter what I ask, he responds so swiftly," she says with evident gratitude. "He's so incredibly supportive."

In receiving the Richard S. Lockhart Memorial Award (represented in the form of "a beautiful pottery plate"), McKenzie reveals that "most of the [United Way] awards were for corporations and their employees. This was the only community award."

Yet, still very willing to keep the spotlight off herself, McKenzie says, "It was humbling to sit there and realize how these busy, busy, busy [corporate] people do so much for the United Way." She makes it a point to acknowledge that "the importance of the award is that it is an occasion to recognize ALL the volunteer energy of so many individuals of HCC on the 10-year anniversary of the organization."

Niemczyk is confident the community award went to a deserving co-volunteer and friend who often finds time in her busy schedule to perform services such as driving cancer patients to Boston for chemo treatments.

"She's an all-around good role model — she's one of those people I wish I could be like," says Niemczyk, who told McKenzie at the reception, "You inspire us. We love you and we thank you for doing what you do."

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