What do the Frystown Lions Club and playground, Salem Lutheran Church in Bethel, Boy Scouts of America and the Vision Resource Center of Berks County have in common? An octogenarian volunteer named Gerald Batz who lives on Frystown Road with his wife Shirley of 61 years, and is father of two, and grandfather of seven.
Perhaps many local folks and travelers know Gerry from his station at Esther’s where he sold nuts for the Lions Club to benefit the club’s charitable causes. However, Volunteer Gerry has done so much more than spend countless hours at Esther’s raising considerable funds for the club of which he has been a member and an officer since his formal membership began September 1980.
Why a Lion?
He was invited by the late Hiram Swope, “who was very active in Lions,” said Gerry.
That invitation played on Gerry’s persona, as one who does things including being in the church choir as a teen. Since his joining Frystown Lions he has served the club as president two times and as secretary for “eons.” He’s served as zone chair, under the then-District Governor Walter Labs, and region chair and even today is on the District Cabinet of Lions District 14P.
In 1991-1992 he received the Melvin Jones award and also has Lions International President’s Certificate of Appreciation. In the 2001-2002 Lions Porgram year he received a Leadership Award from J. Frank Moore III of Alabama, today one of Lions International Past Presidents.
He has visited the Lions Leader Dog facility in Michigan and been to Beacon Lodge in Mt. Union, a Lions camp, a camp which offers the camping experience to special needs children and adults.
“It’s great place,” said Gerry.
As for all his playground volunteer time: The Lions kept the playground when his two kids, Gary now of Jonestown and Loretta now of Myerstown, played there.
“I owed something back to the community,” said Lion Gerry.
“Gerald was the brains behind the Lions chicken barbecues, selling pies and nuts, from when we started. He was in charge of the playground and the baseball field. He was the ‘overseer,’” said current Frystown Lions Club president, Dennis Zerbe.
Zerbe continued with mentioning the many hours both Batz and Lion Bob Edris have spent tending the baseball field and the playground, joined by other Lions in that work over the decades such as Lion Bob Snyder, the most senior club member in terms of membership years, and current club “youngsters” Lions Donald Almond and Bill Mohnken.
“His volunteer hours are ‘terrific’,” said Zerbe of Batz’s commitment.
“If it weren’t for Gerald keeping an eye on the playground one wonders if it would still be there,” mused Zerbe, adding that both Batz and Edris, now living in Mt. Aetna, have given “loads of hours over the years.”
At his church, Batz has been on Council, superintendent of the youngest group for Sunday School, on the ministry committee and was on the Building Committee that oversaw the building of the new church in 1980, after the old one burned in November 1977.
Ground was broken for the new church in 1980 and Gerry and Shirley are still there as part of the church’s long-time family foundation. He has represented the church in the Western Berks Mission District and both he and Shirley have served as delegates to the Synod Assembly, voting or the current Bishop Samuel Zeiser.
Salem’s current pastoral leader, Vicar Julie Osterhout, says Batz is, “a warm and welcoming person,” greeting congregational members and visitors alike at the church.
He assists with the wine at Holy Communion and “his whole heart is involved in that experience.” He participates in the adult Bible Study an avails himself to other adult learning situations.
It is at the church that Batz was asked to be the institutional representative for scouts which the church chartered.
He has also been deeply involved in the Berks County Association of the Blind.
“All the things I did in my life prepared me for being Chairman of the Board of the Berks County Association of the Blind (BCAB), now the Vision Resource Center,” said Batz, who is the Immediate Past Chairman of the Board and is also on the Advisory Board.
What is Batz’s current title in light of all the time he has given and is giving the community locally and on a larger scale? Perhaps Mister Volunteer Extraordinaire.