Keeping the Community Afloat

The communities of our Tri-Town are special, and what makes them special are the people who live in them, the people who work in them, govern them, and those who volunteer their time for the highest good of their town.

This is why, once a year, we at The Wanderer are excited to bring forward three distinctive people from each of the three towns to recognize their hours of community service and dedication to their town, and honor their innumerable contributions that keep each of the communities afloat, like the keel of a ship that keeps the vessel from capsizing.

This year, citizens from each town submitted the names of some pretty spectacular nominees for the 2015 Wanderer Keel Award. Three of them really stood out to us, and we are thrilled to announce the winners of this year’s award: From Mattapoisett, the late Ruth Bates; from Marion, Robbi Dunn-Tracy; and from Rochester, Gordon Helme.

Mattapoisett resident Ruth Bates, who passed away on November 14, 2014, was known as “an unabashed tree hugger” – a Lorax of Mattapoisett of sorts. She was one of the original members of the Tree Committee, a volunteer Bay Watcher for the Buzzards Bay Coalition, a trustee of the Mattapoisett Historical Society, and a trustee of the Mattapoisett Land Trust.

Ruth’s husband Richard Bates said, even just a few months before she died, she was attending Tree Committee hearings as a resident to ensure that any trees to be taken down by the Town were properly surveyed and not unnecessarily removed. She was known as a woman who would speak her mind in public meetings when it came to what she cared about most.

“She just loved the town,” said Bates. “When we would go on vacation, often we’d come back and she’d say, ‘Take a look at this town as if you were looking at it for the first time. What do you think? It’s pretty beautiful, don’t you think?’” Bates said his wife would ask him. “Why would you leave it?” she would then say.

Bates said Ruth just loved Mattapoisett and never concerned herself with personal recognition or monetary compensation.

“She just had a love of the town and the people,” said Bates. “She was always too embarrassed to actually accept something like this (Keel Award),” he said. “She’d have put a quash to that in a hurry.”

Marion Keel Award recipient Robbi Dunn-Tracy keeps busy in Marion with her work in the health care administration business, family, and the various groups to which she belongs. But she is never too busy to lend a hand to her neighbors whenever they are in need of assistance, says Kathi Rogers, who nominated Dunn-Tracy.

A member of the Sippican Woman’s Club, Dunn-Tracy likes what the group stands for and how they devote their efforts to raising funds for scholarships for local students. Dunn-Tracy said what she enjoys most is supporting and promoting the good things in the community, which she did for a time on her own community access show on ORCTV, up until a couple years ago.

“When people view our community, I want them to see all the positive things that can go on in the area,” said Dunn-Tracy. “If I see something good to be done, I’ll promote it.”

Dunn-Tracy has also done volunteer work with Gifts to Give of New Bedford, an organization that provides food, clothing, and toys to local families in need, in which she says she truly believes.

She was reluctant to talk about all the good work she has done, because, as one can gather from speaking with Dunn-Tracy, she is all about the helping and not at all about the recognition.

“You do things for others that you would want done for yourself or your family,” said Dunn-Tracy. “That’s how I was raised. I saw my own parents doing it … and obviously I’m trying to be a good role model for my kids.”

Dunn-Tracy said one would be surprised by the need that exists in Tri-Town, saying one wouldn’t expect there to be a significant amount of families who need help with food or shelter or clothing, but the need is there.

“We are all so fortunate to be members of this community,” said Dunn-Tracy. “But you never know what happens behind closed doors.”

Instead of focusing on her own good work, Dunn-Tracy often changed the subject to shift towards other community members whom she said deserved the Keel Award instead of her. Rogers respectfully disagrees.

“I truly believe that Robbi represents all that is good about Marion and what makes it a wonderful community in which to live,” said Rogers. “Her actions help keep Marion on ‘an even keel.’”

In Rochester, Gordon Helme is at the helm of the SHINE program (Serving Health Information Needs of Elders) as a SHINE counselor, keeping Rochester’s senior population afloat as he helps the aging population of his town navigate the rough waters of health care, social security, benefits programs such as fuel assistance and food assistance, among other things. Helme also assists the Veterans’ Services Office in Rochester, Marion, and Mattapoisett.

According to Director of the Rochester Council on Aging Sharon Lally, Helme is an asset to the community.

“He saves people a lot of money and aggravation,” said Lally. “He’s just a wonderful guy.”

Two years ago, Helme assisted roughly 250 Rochester seniors. This past fiscal year, he said he assisted about 125.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been doing a good job, or they don’t like my service,” laughed Helme.

Helme said throughout his past employment, he has always worked with people. He was also the regional veterans’ officer for the New England U.S. Small Business Administration.

When asked why he devotes so much time to the Rochester C.O.A. – three days a week with the SHINE Program, as well as sitting on the Rochester C.O.A Board of Directors – while also spending two days a week at the New Bedford Veterans’ Services Office, he simply said, “Because I enjoy it.”

“I have always enjoyed working with people,” said Helme. “I just seem to get a sense of fulfillment from helping people,” instead of staying home, he added, doing “other things” that retired people may do.

The Wanderer congratulates our three 2015 Wanderer Keel Award winners and thanks those who submitted nominations to bring these outstanding citizens to the forefront to be honored and recognized for the good work they are doing in our community. Do you know anyone else in the community who deserves recognition? Email us at so we can get the word out about all the great things Tri-Towners are doing to make a difference!

By Jean Perry


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