By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The recipients of the Second Annual 2017 J.D. Simons Community Volunteer Award are Geri and Ernie Bates of Colfax.
The award was presented by the Colfax Commercial Club at the Founder’s Day Main Street Block Party August 5 in downtown Colfax.
[emember_protected] Geri and Ernie were nominated by Rev. Craig Conklin on behalf of the Colfax Ministers’ Group.
Rev. Conklin is the pastor at Tainter United Methodist and Colfax United Methodist.
In his nomination, Rev. Conklin wrote that Geri and Ernie Bates work as a husband and wife team in the three free food opportunities in the Colfax area: The Colfax Community Cares monthly food pantry, the Support for Sunday backpack food program for children in elementary school, and the Caring Ministries Emergency Food Pantry. Between the combined work of Ernie and Geri, the food is ordered, sorted and shelved, and they rotate the food stock so that none of it expires.
The Bates are active members of the Colfax United Methodist Church, and prior to their retirement, Ernie farmed, and Geri was the secretary at Colfax Elementary.
In his nomination, Rev. Conklin wrote that Geri and Ernie Bates have “an unselfish dedication to the Colfax food pantries,” and “they do what is needed not for public praise or recognition, but because it is the right way to live and care for your neighbor.”
During the school year, Geri works with Feed My People of Eau Claire to order food for the Support for Sunday backpack program. She plans the weekly menu working with the parameters of the program and has items ready for the volunteers to pack and take to school on Fridays. Ernie meets the truck to unload and shelve what has been ordered. During the school year, between 30 and 40 food packets are distributed weekly.
Ernie and Geri also stock the Caring Ministries Emergency Food Pantry when the food donations come in, and they rotate the stock for freshness.
Geri works with the Feed My People of Eau Claire, too, in ordering the food for the monthly food pantry, Colfax Community Cares. Ernie is the lead person for unloading this food order. They both help with the organization of the food so that the distribution flows smoothly. The number of families served in this outreach is between 45 and 60 per month.
The J.D. Simons Community Volunteer award was an idea formulated by Mark Johnson, now president of the Colfax Commercial Club.
J.D. Simons is credited with being the founder of Colfax. In later years, when J.D. would return to Colfax for a visit, accounts of his visits were published in the Colfax Messenger. The articles describe a kindly man who was well loved and respected in the Village of Colfax.
J.D. Simons was born in New York State on July 26, 1834. In 1852, he moved to Michigan, and ten months later he moved back to New York state. In 1854, he moved to southern Wisconsin, and then moved to the West Central Wisconsin area and married his wife, Mary, in 1861.
J.D. and Mary had no children of their own but adopted two girls and raised them.
In 1868, J.D. Simons built a mill on Eighteen Mile Creek and started grinding wheat into flower for the other local farmers. Mary operated a store out of their log cabin where she sold sewing material and needles.
J.D. Simons was postmaster in Colfax from 1872 to 1894.
In 1893, Mary passed away and was buried at Hill Grove Cemetery. In 1899, J.D. Simons moved to Bellingham, Washington, with one of his adopted daughters. He returned to Colfax every summer to check on his business interests and to visit with the people of the area.
On May 6, 1918, J.D. Simons died at the age of 83 following an automobile accident in Washington state. The milk truck on which he was riding overturned when it swerved to miss a car, and J.D. Simons died several hours later. J.D.’s grandson accompanied the body back to Colfax, and J.D. was buried in Hill Grove Cemetery.
For reasons that will probably forever remain a mystery, there was no gravestone marking J.D. Simons’ final resting place at Hill Grove Cemetery, so part of the Colfax Sesquicentennial celebration in 2014 was to place a stone at the cemetery.
Troy Knutson, the recipient of the First Annual J.D. Simons Community Volunteer Award in 2016, raised funds in the community and arranged to have the gravestone placed for J.D. Simons.
Knutson is the author of “Looking Through the Lens” (Colfax History Through Pictures).
Beginning with J.D. Simons, there have been many business owners and residents in the Colfax area who have carried on the values of volunteering, supporting and promoting the Village of Colfax.
In this spirit of volunteerism, the Colfax Commercial Club wanted to recognize the “unsung heroes” in our community who give generously of their time, talents and resources with the J.D. Simons Community Volunteer Award. [/emember_protected]