It was a handshake and a willingness for two friends to serve on each other’s boards of directors that started Paul Novak down a path of 45 years spent supporting senior services in Goshen County, Wyo.
Today, AARP Wyoming announced Paul Novak of Torrington is being honored for that service as AARP Wyoming’s 2021 Andrus Award Winner. Novak won out over fellow Wyoming Volunteers Thomas Trapp of Rock Springs, and Clarence and Stella Montano of Sheridan.
The Andrus Award, named after AARP founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, recognizes individuals who are sharing their experience, talent, and skills to enrich their communities in ways that are consistent with AARP’s mission, vision, and commitment to volunteer service. The Andrus Award is considered the state’s premiere award for volunteers aged 50 and over.
An Unexpected Opportunity
Novak, currently age 87, has served on the Goshen Care Center Joint Powers Board since 1977. It was a job he never sought, or even considered until an unexpected visit from a county commissioner.
“I was the assistant superintendent of the school district and Wendell Gamble, who was one of the county commissioners, told me that the commissioners would like me to be on the county nursing home board,” says Novak. “I told him I had no knowledge of senior care, but I’d make a deal with him. I would serve one term on the Goshen County Nursing board if he would run for the school board. He agreed and we shook on it.
“Only in Wyoming can you get a deal like that on a handshake”
That was 43 years ago and Novak hasn’t left the Joint Powers Board yet. Since joining the Joint Powers Board, Novak has been a driving force in helping Torrington build a 24-unit Independent Living Facility; a skilled nursing home and dementia care unit with 75 rooms; and a 30-room assisted living facility, which opens in October of 2021. An extremely impressive array of care options and housing for older adults in a community of 6,700 residents.
“What got me really coming back to this board is when we had friends who had to leave Goshen County because we didn’t have the care for them,” Novak says. “They would tell me they didn’t want to leave Goshen County, but they needed care we didn’t have here. They had to leave friends, family, and church. I kept hearing that and thought we need to do something in Goshen County to keep our seniors in Goshen County.”
Even with all of the success the Joint Powers Board has had, Novak says their work isn’t done yet. The opening of Evergreen Assisted Living is just Phase I of that project. Phase II will include upgrades and a remodel of the Independent Living complex to connect it to the Assisted Living complex and mark the culmination of the project.
For Novak, the project has been rewarding for what it offers the community, but also for the financial good it has done for the area. He points out that when the Evergreen Assisted Living project was started, the Holly Sugar plant and local ethanol plant had just closed and there was concern about what would happen to Torrigton. Novak says the Joint Powers Board made a concerted effort to use as many local contractors and companies to build the Assisted Living facility as it could.
“We have been on a real good path,” says Novak. “We are excited about where we are and where we started from. I really feel this is like 45 years in the making. We are where we are now, and are finally closing all the loops for senior care.”
Novak points out his time on the Joint Powers Board has been enjoyable because everyone supports the mission of aiding the senior center in Goshen County. It is a board with no office, no phone number, and no email.
“We are a committed board,” he says. “We just have a commitment to our mission, but we always find a place to meet and a reason to meet. The community has been outstanding and really supportive. Our bankers were supportive and we had great management. It has been a good ride.”
Life Outside of the Joint Powers Board
Novak was born in Wilber, Neb. between Lincoln and Beatrice, and attended Doane College where he majored in education and taught in Cheyenne, Torrington, and Jackson before a stint in the Naval Reserves and National Guard. He later earned a master’s degree and administrative endorsement before rising to the level of superintendent for the Goshen County School District.
“I loved the kids,” says Novak. “I loved working with kids, to be around kids and I really felt the challenge of working with kids. I started some programs in Torrington – a special ed program, a bi-lingual program. It was a big part of my life.”
Paul and his wife Pat (Flitner) Novak recently celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary, after meeting in Cheyenne where they were both teaching. In retirement, the duo have traveled to Europe, Alaska, New Zealand, and Australia, among other ventures The two have five children: Anne Saunders (who lives in Douglas); Catherine Parrott (Jackson); Mary Wolfe (Douglas); Elizabeth Kilgore (Scoby, Mont.); and Joe Novak (Colorado Springs).
About The Voting For The Andrus Award
For the last three years, AARP Wyoming has named two or three finalists for the state award, then asked the public to vote for their favorites finalist by “liking,” and “sharing,” a video of each posted on AARP Wyoming’s Facebook page. The voting started Sept. 28 on Facebook and ended Oct. 15 with Novak’s video receiving a total of 253 likes, shares, and comments. Trapp’s video came in second place with 199 likes, shares, and comments, while the Montano video had 119 responses.
Putting the videos on Facebook also gave the public a chance to comment on Novak’s work. Among the comments left were:
“Mr. Novak’s name is synonymous with care and compassion in Goshen County. He is an icon and is one of the most deserving people I know. He’s a family man and an amazing leader for our County. Congratulations, Mr. Novak, on this prestigious nomination.”- LoDona Sittner.
Paul Novak has had an incredibly positive impact on Torrington – and many of us who grew up there. So happy to see him as a finalist for this award. – Tim Punke.
Grandpa Paul Novak is a pillar in this family!! His kindness, loyalty, and faith and family first motto has carried generations through the toughest of times. He is such an inspiration in my life I named my son Elliott Paul after him. Proud of you Grandpa and honored to know you. Marissa Beard.
About this year’s nominees
Thomas Trapp (Trapp video can be seen here) – Trapp owns an insulation company that also handles asbestos removal. Around Sweetwater County, Trapp has a reputation for being willing to help those who need work done.
Trapp has provided those in need with free water heaters, insulation, heating and air conditioning work, as well as clean up floods. Sadie may also be outing him for his work through her nomination as she says Thomas is happy to do the work, but doesn’t look for the notoriety. Trapp has also donated insulation to be used for a warming hut used by local snowmobile club, the Snowpokes; has worked as a volunteer on a sheep guzzler (water catchment and storage device used to provide water for wildlife) project, and is known in the community for dropping off vegetables at the front door of residents, ringing the doorbell and taking off before the door can open.
Clarence and Stella Montano (Montano video can be seen here) – Montano was nominated for the Andrus Award by Sheridan’s Wayne Schaatz. The three have worked together for years on AARP Wyoming’s Sheridan Community Action Team.
Stella is a common sight around Sheridan, having worked for years at The Hub on Smith, Sheridan’s Senior Center, where she worked in the caregiver program helping those who help others. She has also been a representative of the community on the Chamber of Commerce’s welcoming committee. Clarence, a US Army Veteran, has been at the center of many different veterans efforts in Sheridan County, including a Veterans Golf Tournament, care packages for veterans who are deployed and more.
Don Cushman was the 2020 AARP Wyoming Andrus Award winner. After retiring 15 years ago, Cushman took a trip to Mississippi with the Presbytery of Wyoming to help repair homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. That experience led Cushman to make a commitment to work more consistently with Habitat for Humanity in Teton County. Cushman began driving the 55 miles each way, often twice-a-week (4,500 miles) to build sites in Teton County, which has culminated in its current effort, a five-year, six-building run. He has been named the Turnkey Award – given to the volunteer with the highest number of volunteer hours on a project – numerous times, and was named Habitat’s Lee Kuntz Volunteer of The Year Award winner for the Rocky Mountain Region in 2016.
The 2019 Andrus Award winners, Karen and Walter Jones, spend their retirement years volunteering with the National Park Service in Grand Teton National Park. For four months out of the year, the Jones’ live in their camper and devote their time to ensuring that the visitors of the park have a fulfilling and educational visit. Their duties with the park include talks about bear safety, animal information, and cultural history. They can be found answering questions at the desk or out on the hiking trails.
When the rules committee was making up those rules, it almost seems they had 2018 Andrus Award Winner, Kay Bjorklund of Thermopolis, in mind. Kay, age 95, remains a Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, welcoming new businesses to Thermopolis, as well as program director for her Kiwanis Club, lining up speakers for the club’s twice-monthly meetings. One week a month you can find Kay delivering Meals on Wheels to Thermopolis residents. Each weekend she is acting activities director for The Pioneer Home, where she lines up Wii Bowling tournaments and shuffleboard. Kay would also mention she carries a 231 average on Wii bowling. If that isn’t enough, she also volunteers one day a week in the gift shop of the hospital in Thermopolis, and works with the doorstep ministry of her church.
Clayton and Gloria Jensen were honored as winners of the 2017 Andrus Award by AARP Wyoming. The Jensens are the coaches at the Casper Boxing Club in Casper where they have gained a reputation for changing the lives of at-risk young men and women. The mission of Casper Boxing Club is to promote sportsmanship, responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and individuality through education, dedication, desire, and a commitment to maximize excellence. The program seeks to use the mind and body as a catalyst to bring about change, creating an environment to reach youth who others may have written off as unreachable.