Mary Keller has always had a place in her heart for the elderly and mentally ill.
“I used to visit family at the nursing home,” said Keller, 66, “and I saw how many people didn’t have someone to visit them.”
So when she saw a newspaper ad for the court-run Volunteer Guardianship Program, Keller said she jumped on the opportunity to help out.
Keller and 36 other volunteers were honored at an annual picnic at the Brunswick Eagles Club, 349 Pearl Road, Thursday evening by Medina County Juvenile and Probate Judge John J. Lohn, who thanked them for their selfless service.
The volunteers are assigned “wards” — people incapable of managing their own affairs, either because of age or mental illness, and who don’t have families nearby to help them. They protect and make decisions for their wards, but rarely handle any of their money.
Keller’s ward, Leonard Kolman, 59, was injured in a car accident in his 20s and suffered permanent, traumatic brain injuries. He lives at Meadowview Healthcare Center in Seville.
“When I joined the program, I was expecting to get a little old woman,” Keller said. “Instead, I got Leonard.”
Keller, of Brunswick, has visited Kolman once a month since 2009. When she visits, she brings him treats and takes him to dinner with her husband.
“Unfortunately, she brings me back after,” Kolman joked.
At the picnic, the judge thanked Keller and the other volunteers.
He said they become more than simply guardians: They become friends and advocates for their wards.
“If you’re looking for the people in Medina County with the biggest hearts, just look around,” he told them.
Lohn established the program shortly after he took office in 2002. After getting everything in order, guardians were appointed starting October 2004.
He said the program has grown beyond his expectations; in fact, he said, the program has more volunteers than wards.
“It’s a good problem to have,” he said. “Most other counties (with similar programs) don’t have enough volunteers.”
The program is funded by grants from the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the National Association of Legal Secretaries and private donations from county residents Dan and Vicky Marty.
Lohn also was honored by program coordinator Nicki Shook, because Thursday’s picnic was his last one as a judge.
In April, Lohn announced his retirement due to medical problems. His last day is June 30 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will appoint a replacement.
He said he wants to volunteer for the program in his retirement, but he’s not sure he will because of his own medical issues and because it could be a conflict of interest if he was called in as a visiting judge.
He said he’s proud of all the work he’s done with the program, and he knows it will continue with whoever takes over as the county’s probate and juvenile judge.
“There was always going to have been someone else who took this job,” Lohn said. “It’s just happening a little sooner than I expected.”
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or email@example.com.