Lonnie Skinner – a true volunteer

Published 9:44 am Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Volunteer – (noun) A person who renders aid, performs a service, or assumes an obligation voluntarily.

I was shocked not to see a photo of Lonnie Skinner upon reading the meaning of that word as listed in The American Heritage Dictionary.

Mr. Lonnie was, by all accounts, a true public servant, only without a fat paycheck to accompany all those long years of service. To him, the simple thought of reaching out to his fellow man or woman in their time of need was his reward.

Hertford County and the entire Roanoke-Chowan area lost one its greatest servants in history on Oct. 26 when Mr. Lonnie died at the age of 78.

He dedicated his adult life to helping others, whether that was administering medical attention and transportation, through his actions as a Sunday School teacher and Deacon at Creech Memorial Baptist Church in Ahoskie, or taking that little extra time to spend inside local nursing homes to spread his warm smile with residents.

In my job of covering accident scenes, I’ve witnessed first-hand the work of Lonnie Skinner and others like him. They are always the first line of medical care during such mishaps. As is so often the case, medical decisions made by highly trained and skilled volunteers at the scene of an accident means the difference between life and death for a victim. I’ve seen vehicle crashes so horrific that it’s amazing how anyone survived, but they did thanks to people like Lonnie Skinner.

I got to know Mr. Lonnie better over recent years and I learned so much of what it took to build the Ahoskie Rescue Squad into an elite emergency response unit. And to think, that effort was due to volunteers knocking on doors and soliciting the help of the community.

Fifty-plus years ago, those in need of emergency medical assistance at home or at work had basically no other avenue than to call a funeral home for help or transportation to a medical facility. That fact prompted a group of local men to launch an effort in 1958 to form the Ahoskie Rescue Squad. That group remained active until July of 2008 upon Hertford County EMS, with all paid personnel, covering all emergency calls, 24/7, throughout the county.

Those ARS volunteers became the heroes of the local area, answering calls for help during traffic accidents, boating accidents, residential accidents and looking for lost individuals. They were there for expectant mothers, often delivering babies before the patient could be transported to the hospital or doctor’s office.

As was the case in that day and age, the ARS volunteers held down full-time jobs. Such was the case for Mr. Lonnie as he worked as a Network Switching Technician for Carolina Telephone & Telegraph Company. After a long, hard day at work, Skinner was among those taking turns manning the ARS building at nights and on weekends, there to answer the call for help.

Even the building housing ARS was a labor of love by Skinner and the other volunteers. They transformed an empty lot at the corner of First and Pembroke streets into a facility big enough to house seven vehicles along with sleeping quarters, restrooms, a meeting room and a kitchen.

After the county took over EMS operations, Mr. Lonnie helped spearhead an effort to save the old ARS building. It took more than a year of legal wrangling, but the building was turned over to the town who, in turn, will allow Hertford County EMS to operate a rescue unit from that facility.

Due to his faithful service over the years, Mr. Lonnie was a three-time winner of the Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service and received the prestigious Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Ahoskie Rotary Club.

But for those that really knew Lonnie Gray Skinner, they understand he never accepted the role of a volunteer to bask in the glow of the spotlight. He was in it for all the right reasons – for the true love of his community.

May he rest in peace as his good and faithful service here on Earth is done.

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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