Quechee is blessed with an outstanding collection of capable, energetic people who turn their talents to the support of many worthy causes, both local and larger. Notable in this group is Diane Ames, full of vigor and wide smiles. She’s raised three successful sons (and is working her magic on three grandchildren), accumulated an impressive résumé and greased the wheels of the world with extensive volunteering. With good reason she has been called “a volunteer extraordinaire!”

Roots in volunteering

3-aDiane was born and brought up in Washington, D.C. She can remember air raid sirens, and the blackout shades and ration books of World War II. She began volunteering younger than most. “Volunteerism was a very important part of my teenage years, starting with the local children’s center, Junior Village, a home for children who had been removed from their home, where a group from our church went over in the evening to play with the children and get them ready for bed,” she explains. Church and school choirs also played an important role in Diane’s life, providing the opportunity to perform in well-known venues like Constitution Hall and the Carter Baron Amphitheater, the forerunner of Wolf Trap.

“Washington D.C. was a wonderful place to grow up in those days,” says Diane. “It was easy and safe to get around on public transportation to visit the museums and memorials. One of our favorite weekend adventures was to go to the Washington Monument to see how quickly we could climb the stairs to the top,” which is no longer allowed. Her family belonged to the Sycamore Island Club on the Potomac River, accessible only by canoe and a small barge that ran back and forth from the mainland. “My brothers and I became proficient in swimming in the currents and handling canoes,” she says, laughing at the more relaxed supervision kids enjoyed then.

“One winter when it was particularly cold for a long stretch,” Diane recalls, “we were able to ice skate across the Potomac from Maryland to Virginia, and also for miles down the C&O Canal. Then there was the time several of us went down to the reflecting pool and went skating at midnight.” This more innocent time ended with the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Security, and evening closures for various places became the norm.

Diane attended the University of Maryland, studying microbiology, but in her senior year became so ill she had to drop out. Her father, a physician, suggested she get a job until fall, and she worked for an Army research company. It was years before she made it back to undergraduate college. Instead, she married and moved with her then husband to Utah, where he was stationed as a lieutenant in the Air Force. Two years later the couple moved to Ithaca, New York, so he could pursue a master’s degree; Diane again worked as a research assistant, studying the effects of space travel on metabolic processes, using physical data from the Gemini 7 mission. Then they moved to Bucks Co, Pennsylvania, where their three sons were born.

3-bIn 1977, the marriage ended. Diane and her sons moved to the D.C. area to be near both sets of grandparents. She bought a house in McLean, Virginia, and began the life of a single parent. She got involved with a church and Bible study close by and started volunteering with Prison Fellowship, a ministry founded by Evangelical Christian leader Chuck Colson, to rehabilitate federal inmates and reduce recidivism. This work led her to college at George Mason University for a degree in psychology and research in corrections rehabilitation. Her thesis was published in conjunction with a group from The National Institute of Mental Health.

While single, Diane became involved with personnel issues and started taking courses in human resources management, earning professional certification. As her boys got older she was able to take a full-time position as a human resources director at a Navy engineering firm in Virginia, “one of the beltway bandits,” she laughs. “My favorite role was being able to help young employees plan for career and educational development, get them enrolled in classes and teach some of the older employees computer skills.”

A fresh start

At this time, Diane attended her 20th high school reunion and ran into Terry Russell. “Terry and I had been good friends in high school,” says Diane. “He and two of my brothers were best buds, and we spent much time canoeing and playing tennis. I was the kid sister.” He also was single again and the two became close, marrying in 1984.

“Our five children were close in age, and for one year all of them were in college at the same time.” Diane says. In 1997, she and Terry moved to Connecticut where they both worked for Save the Children. Then in 2002, after seeing an advertisement for Quechee Lakes in the Wall Street Journal, they bought a lot, built a house and moved in August 2003.

Diane’s executive talents and emotional strength came in handy during the construction and moving process. “When we moved up here, Terry was working on a project in Portland, Oregon, and for most of the time until the following April, I was living alone with three pets. At that time, there was just one other full-time family on the main part of our road. I wasn’t used to the darkness, but loved being able to see the stars and the Milky Way for the first time in decades. Bit by bit I met families who came for short visits.” Still, loneliness loomed.

Dedicated to giving back

3-c“Volunteerism was what saved me,” Diane says, emphatically. “When we first moved here I knew no one, and attended a meeting on invasive plants. I met Jan Lambert who had a government contract to start removing the milfoil from Dewey Pond. She asked me to be her volunteer coordinator. A couple of students from Vermont Law School helped us out. I also recruited my son, a professional diver, living in New York at that time for a couple of weekends. And Terry, when he returned from Portland, spent many hours in the pond.” (Now her invasive-control interests have turned to burdock around The Green, in an effort to make life easier for wandering dogs—and their owners.)

Diane also started working at the Quechee Library and has been there for over 12 years on Tuesday afternoons. She worked at David’s House in Hanover, New Hampshire, as a hospitality volunteer for 10 years. She’s been on the QLLA Charities Board for several years, mostly directing her efforts to the two major events for the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD). For several years she has run the Upper Valley Fuel Group, a buying group for heating fuel. And she’s served as membership chairman for the Quechee Women’s Golf Association. (Her latest athletic obsessions are paddle tennis and pickle ball.) This is only a partial list of her many volunteer activities.

Diane’s three sons are scattered widely—Atlanta, Denver, and Bogota. Last year, when she turned 75, she was awakened one below-zero night by a FaceTime call from her Bogota son, David. Always delighted to hear from him, she gradually realized that the background on the screen was her downstairs rec room! Her three sons had arranged to meet at the Manchester airport and drive up to surprise her. “They couldn’t have given me a more precious gift!” she exclaims.

Many interests

A life-long learner, Diane recently took a course on DNA, and participated in the “23andMe” program, which gives you a genetic snapshot of your health and ancestry, and can list possible relatives (all parties being agreeable). She has thus discovered a second cousin, whom she will meet in December when she flies to California for her National Assessment of Educational Progress training.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a Department of Education project that goes into the 4th and 8th grades all over the country to test the students in Math, Reading and Science. Diane goes into schools and administers tests for six weeks in the winter. “It’s not as a volunteer, but it pays so little it might as well be,” she laughs, “but we have an interesting time and get to know all the schools and back roads in Windsor County.”

Threads from Diane’s past reappear to add richness to her daily life. “I was just listening to some of the music our choir sang in Germany in 1997. Singing in the same churches where Bach was organist and where his cantatas were performed! And singing in Handel’s home! How good can it get? And in Jordan I was at Moses’ grave and at the place where Jesus was baptized. I brought water back from the River Jordan for my granddaughter’s baptism. Guess I’d better quit. I’m getting too nostalgic,” she says. Thinking back is all very well, but she’d rather DO something.

by Ruth Sylvester