Volunteer finds niche at COA

At 70, Mark David Neckameyer considers himself a junior senior.

He’s still got plenty of energy and knowledge to share with his community and a willingness to help others his age stay active and involved.

The retired electronics industry finance executive also considers himself lucky to have moved from California, where he worked for 35 years, to Gonzales for the retirement phase of his life.

Ascension Council on Aging Executive Director Darlene Schexnayder said she believes she’s the lucky one because of Neckameyer’s dedication to his volunteer duties with her agency.

In addition to teaching driving classes to local senior citizens, Neckameyer organizes the COA’s monthly Ask the Doctor series and publishes a monthly newsletter for the agency.

Neckameyer said his parents promoted the positive effects of volunteerism, having served a 10-year stint with the Peace Corps in Malawi after they retired.

So, after settling into his new Gonzales home in 2009, Neckameyer looked for a way to give back.

First, he hooked up with AARP to teach its Alive at 55 driver’s education class.

Seniors who complete the course can save as much as 10 percent on their auto insurance, he said.

“Not only have I helped make a thousand folks into better, safer drivers but I have saved my neighbors around $100,000 that will likely be spent here in Ascension Parish rather than going to insurance companies up North,” he said.

Through that experience, he found the Ascension Council on Aging.

After learning the agency didn’t have a newsletter to promote its services, Neckameyer volunteered to publish one each month.

He writes most of the articles, takes the photographs and designs the publication.

Schexnayder said the newsletter is distributed each month to seniors and other residents.

“Mark is always looking for new ways to help out; he embodies what it means to be a volunteer,” she said.

Neckameyer’s also responsible for the agency’s popular Ask the Doctor series, which brings in medical professionals each month to discuss issues of aging and to provide tips and information to help seniors.

“Mark’s idea of the Ask the Doctor series has provided a unique opportunity for seniors to get questions answered by medical professionals outside of the clinical setting, in a more relaxed atmosphere,” Schexnayder said. “He came to me with the idea and, once approved, he worked to get St. Elizabeth Hospital to partner with us.”

During the recent September series gathering at the Gonzales Senior Center, Neckameyer worked with the speakers to set up the microphone and equipment and greeted the seniors.

“This is such a great place and I’m glad to help,” Neckameyer. “It’s rewarding and I’m happy to be a part of the center.”

Neckameyer’s experiences at the Gonzales Senior Center have reinforced his decision to move to Louisiana.

“People here are friendlier and nicer to friends and neighbors, even friendly to strangers,” he said. “The food here is much tastier, scenery and fishing is much, much better and yet the cost of living is half what it is in California, particularly housing and taxes.”

COA is also fortunate, Neckameyer said, to have the support of local businesses and residents. “What you’ve got here is a lot better than anything we had in California.”

To learn about the center’s Ask the Doctor series or other services, call the Gonzales Senior Center at (225) 473-3789 or Donaldsonville Senior Center at (225) 621-5750.