by Moira Cullings
TONGANOXIE — Those who know her might call Joanne Acinger-Vancas Sacred Heart’s Energizer Bunny.
“I feel better when I’m doing something or helping people out, whether on an individual basis or for the parish,” said Acinger-Vancas, parishioner at Sacred Heart in Tonganoxie.
For Acinger-Vancas, it’s not an occasional helping out. She’s a member of the finance council, Altar Society and the parish bazaar planning committee, a eucharistic minister, server and lector.
She also implemented a recycling program at the church and keeps a mega-list of every volunteer at the parish’s bazaar each year.
“I joined the Altar Society right [when I joined Sacred Heart] because I wanted to meet people and become involved,” she said.
“That next year, I was treasurer of the Altar Society, so that started to get the ball rolling,” she continued.
When Acinger-Vancas took early retirement from her job at Sprint, her volunteer efforts really kicked into gear. And she was able to bring with her the accounting and finance skills she gained from her old job.
“Those work skills just carry over,” she said.
They’ve especially helped her maintain the list of volunteers at the parish bazaar, as well as any other extra organizational things she can get her hands on, she said.
Acinger-Vancas said her duties are manageable as she normally spends just a few hours at the parish each week.
Her biggest challenge?
“I say ‘yes’ too often,” she joked. “I have to learn to start saying ‘no’ or postpone some things. But it all works out in the end.”
Acinger-Vancas came to the vineyard pretty early, she said, as she grew up looking toward her parents’, aunts’ and uncles’ example.
“They were always active in their parishes and volunteered in small ways,” she said. “I was always a tag-along because I’m the last of five kids.
“My mom always said, ‘If you help others, you’ll be thankful that you have that opportunity,’ so something like that just carries on from your upbringing.”
Another influence was the nuns who taught her growing up — the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica at Christ the King Church and the Sisters of Charity at Bishop Ward High School, both in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I guess what got me started is when I was in grade school,” she said, “and at the end of the school year — it must have been fourth grade — one of the Sisters asked me to come the next day, even though school was out, and help her scrub desks and get all the pencil marks off.”
“And I really enjoyed it,” she added, “just being with the Sister, talking with her and getting to know her.”
That memory has stayed with Acinger-Vancas all this time, and the feeling she gets when giving back keeps her going.
“I just feel like I’m giving back a tiny fraction of what I was given growing up,” she said.