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Gazette Staff

Retirement often means slowing down. But, for three Billings residents, it’s a busy time, often spent in volunteer activities.

The three — Claire Conter, Margaret Ping and Albert “Al” Hofferber — were honored Thursday night with St. John’s Ministries’ Celebration of Life! Awards. Their contributions were celebrated at a gourmet buffet at Mission Ridge, then they received their awards just before a Billings Community Band concert on Town Square at St. John’s Lutheran Home.

The annual awards recognize elders’ outstanding contributions to community service. The winners are nominated by the public, then selected by a review committee.

Ping, 89, still walks with a friend each morning and keeps up a full list of volunteer activities.

The executive of the Billings YWCA from 1960 to 1964, she worked for that group for 39 years, including a number of years in Mexico and Peru.

In the 1980s, she spent 16 weeks helping out with Habitat for Humanity in Georgia. On her return to Montana, she became one of the founding members and directors of the Mid Yellowstone Valley affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, which builds homes for low-income partner families.

She has been a board member, as well as volunteer, at Global Village, a nonprofit store that sells items produced by artisans in developing countries.

At St. John’s, she helped start the senior day care program that lets senior citizens have activities and a save place to stay while relatives are at work in the daytime.

Her nomination for the Celebration of Life! Award calls Ping the “wind behind the wings” of many organizations. In addition to her other efforts, she is involved in Church Women United, the Montana Association of Churches and the American Association of University Women.

“I don’t want to give up anything,” Ping says of her full plate of community activities.

She has long been active in peace and justice issues and, in 1994, was the second recipient of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Award.

She sees her work with Global Village as tied to those interests as it helps artisans get a decent wage. “It really works on helping people,” Ping says.

She wrote

more music ahead More free open-air concerts are coming in the Town Square Summer Concert Series.

St. Vincent Healthcare and St. John’s Lutheran Ministeries have partnered with other businesses to sponsor the concerts, which will be at 7 p.m. each Thursday through Aug. 9.

A barbecue dinner is served before each concert at 6 p.m. for $6. Some nights feature dinner entertainment in addition to the concert performers.

They are on the square between Mission Ridge and St. John’s, 3940 Rimrock Road.

On tap in the concert series are:

July 12: Cody.

July 19: Craig Olson Orchestra.

July 26: Rob Quist and the Great Northern

Aug. 2: VooDoo Hot Dogs.

Aug. 9: Black Irish Band.

Billings Community Band, which performed Thursday night, also has a free concert at 7:30 p.m. July 18 near the lake on the MetraPark grounds. Ice-cream sundaes will be available for purchase at that concert.

about the YWCA’s early days in Billings in “Looking Back — Moving Forward: The History of the Billings YWCA” and says, “I’m always interested in what happens to women.”

She still works one day a week at the Hardin Historical Museum, in her hometown. She also gave the land for the museum.

“I’m sure you live happy older lives if you can keep active,” she says.

Conter, 85, started working as a volunteer for St. Vincent Healthcare in 1969 and has managed the hospital’s Cheri Nook snack bar for 20 years.

She still volunteers there a couple of times a week and handles the nook’s ordering and bill paying, along with other managerial duties.

She moved to Billings in 1962 and decided to become a volunteer because her husband was often on the road, and her three children were in school.

When she started volunteering, the nook was just a little bar on one side of the hospital cafeteria. It’s since moved to a more prominent location and serves food five days a week. The operation usually needs five people a day to make food, serve and perform other duties.

“I’ve made a lot of friends” working with volunteers she says, noting that “most people who want to volunteer are pretty nice, congenial.”

She praises the young people who help out as the hospital’s Junior Volunteers.

“If you get the children interested in it … that will help for the future,” Conter says.

Conter and her husband, John, moved to Mission Ridge before his death last October. He had owned the Spotted Ass Ranch, which they sold.

She now volunteers periodically at the desk at Mission Ridge to give others a break.

“I really enjoy it,” she says. “You get to really know everybody.”

And she chuckles when asked what keeps her volunteer fires burning.

“You can only play bridge so many days a week,” she responds.

Hofferber, 75, called the Meals on Wheels program eight years ago to ask that meals be delivered to his mother, then in her early 90s.

After arranging the service, he said to let him know if he could help out as a substitute driver or with other occasional help.

“Fine. I’ll see you in the morning,” he recalls the Meals on Wheels representative saying. “And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

He volunteers three or four days a week to take meals to senior citizens. He may be the only visitor that a senior gets some days, and sometimes he helps out with garbage or brings in the mail.

He encourages others to volunteer and notes that the program “needs drivers, needs them bad.”

As he picked up meals for delivery at the Billings Community Center, he eventually was recruited to help out with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, a Yellowstone County Council on Aging program that was then housed at the center.

Retired from a career in managing motels, he now volunteers as a tutor for elementary-school students in the America Reads Program, at School District 2’s fund-raising Saturday Live, at the Boys and Girls Club’s annual Halloween party, at the District Music Festival for high-schoolers, at Montana State University-Billings’ ticket department for basketball games, at the Big Sky State Games and as an usher at First Congregational Church.

He is a driver for the program that helps senior citizens get to doctor’s and other appointments and wraps Christmas gifts for RSVP.

Hofferber says he can juggle so many volunteer activities because some efforts, such as work for Big Sky State Games, are seasonal.

He says Sue Bailey, of RSVP, has nudged him into many of his volunteer activities and adds that she “deserves a lot of credit; she does a lot of things.”

Many of Hofferber’s activities involve young people. He and his late wife had four children, and he has 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Working as a tutor, he points out the importance of giving kids credit for trying.

With all his volunteer work, Hofferber still reserves Thursdays as “golf day.” He took up the sport when he was 70 and enjoys it enough to wish he had started earlier. He also likes most sports, from football to basketball and taking in Mustangs and American Legion baseball games.

He acknowledges that he could spend his retirement years watching TV or in similar pursuits. But, he says, his volunteer life “is so much better than that.”

“There’s a lot to be done,” he insists.

For people who don’t get involved, he has a simple message: “They don’t know what they’re missing. It really is satisfying.”