On Tuesday, April 17, Volunteer Iowa inducted Pam Wolter—hailing from Denver, Iowa—into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame for her efforts towards improving her local community.
The root of Wolter’s service influence is impossible to pin down. As a self-starter, she basically looks for areas of need and addresses them—no waiting around and no questions asked.
“If there’s things that you find that need help, you’re able to do that,” Wolter said, “no waiting around for someone else to do it. You can do it in your timeline and you can do it the way you want to, because you’re the one organizing it.”
This is her approach to much of her volunteer work. It all comes down to being observant, she said.
And community service doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, she notes. It’s okay to start simple, and she taught local elementary schoolers how to do just that by showing them how to buy simple plant and potting supplies to create mini ecosystems in their backyards.
“I just like to keep passing that [simplicity] on,” Wolter said. “Even a second grader can create habitat in their own yard or apartment.”
But Wolter’s had her fair share of grand schemes, too.
She noticed that there weren’t enough trees in her local community, and after taking master gardener classes, she found that free trees were available by way of grants.
As per her style, she took the initiative upon herself.
“The next thing you know, I’m applying for grants for tree planting,” Wolter said, “and $50,000 in grant money later …”
So, she founded the Denver Tree Board, which has facilitated tree planting and beautification events in the town for over ten years.
Another notable project of Wolter’s regards another ecological cause: mussels.
Each year, the city of Waterloo draws back water in Cedar River with a dam, but once the pressure of the drawback is released each fall, the water levels drop anywhere from four to six feet. According to Wolter, this process strands significant numbers of endangered mussels in sandbars.
Scrolling through Facebook one day, Wolter saw a post from a community member that documented the plight of these stranded creatures, with a caption calling for someone to do something.
His post found the perfect pair of eyes.
“I thought, you know, I can organize a rescue event for those mussels,” Wolter said.
After campaigning to local environmental organizations and Hawkeye Community College students studying environmental topics, Wolter rallied troops to save about 1,000 mussels in just the first year. The Cedar River Mussel Conservation Project, now a well-established partnership, continues to resettle around 1,000 mussels each fall.
“Sometimes it’s easier for you to just go away, especially because they don’t want a lot of publicity about the project, and they want to keep being able to do what they do,” Wolter said. “And of course, they didn’t want people to know that they’re killing mussels every fall, especially mussels that are threatened across all of North America.”
Clearly, Wolter is creative with her time and resources. She does her research and searches tirelessly for ways to improve her community—she seeks these improvements out on her own time, usually with no solicitations or requests to do so. She finds a need and takes it upon herself to tackle it.
She noticed her town needed a fireworks festival, so she found out what she needed to do to make that happen, creating the annual Denver Fireworks event. She noticed an excess of litter while kayaking in a local state park, so she called the park rangers and told them she was going to organize a clean-up, recycling materials as needed.
“It doesn’t take a lot to see outside yourself,” Wolter said. “Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask anyone for permission—you just fulfill a need by being observant.”
One of Wolter’s major hobbies is kayaking, which she got more interested in after taking a trip with a local conservation office. She loved it so much that she decided to put up a sign at a local outfitter to see if she could garner interest to start a kayaking club.
Now, the club—Cedar Valley Paddlers—is in its thirteenth season and has forty-six members. The group’s gone to Mexico three times, Belize for eleven days last summer, and they’re currently planning a Costa Rica trip. At the local level, the club completes clean-ups in bodies of water all over Iowa and promotes the healthy use of these natural resources.
Of course, all of these projects come out of Wolter’s own pocket and time clock. She’s living proof that with just a little extra effort, one person can create something incredible.
“I like to empower people to be able to see things within their own communities, in their own spaces,” Wolter said. “To see needs and figure out how to fill those needs.”
Wolter has two daughters and three granddaughters, and as a retired blood recruiter for a collection of hospitals, she now spends time in special education classrooms in addition to her countless community projects.
Wolter’s efforts in her neighborhood and beyond are undeniable indicators of an exemplary volunteer who is committed to the betterment of her community and the world. Her work continues to make a giant impact on the Denver community and everything that extends from it.
“I just really want people to feel empowered to go out and make differences in their own community and environment,” Wolter said. “Sometimes, it’s just those small things that start small and become something bigger, like just moving a few mussels. The next thing you know, you’re saving 10,000 mussels.
“Even if it’s picking up the park that’s across the street from your house—something simple like that. Don’t wait for someone else to do it, you can do it yourself.”