Jeannette couple honored by AARP for tireless community service
When AARP contacted Clyde and Lucille Bittner, both 57, of Jeannette to tell them they had won its most prestigious volunteer award, the phone call met with suspicion.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m ready to hang up, I know this is a scam,’” Lucille Bittner said.
The Bittners are the 2014 recipients of the state’s AARP Andrus Award for Community Service, an honor for those who use their experience, talents and skills to benefit others. The couple were recognized for helping senior citizens and contributing to several organizations that aim to improve life in Jeannette.
“I was shocked,” Clyde Bittner said of receiving the honor. “I was blown away.”
Diana Gray, 62, of North Huntingdon nominated the couple after working alongside them in the Bridges to Prosperity Program in Jeannette and the Jeannette Salvation Army for three years.
“I see the deep commitment that they have to the community,” she said. “They are always ready, willing and able to do. They are not the kind of people who sit in meetings and stop there.
“They’re the action in the background,” Gray said.
Steve Gardner, associate state director for communications for AARP in Pennsylvania, said a panel evaluated 21 nominees before selecting the Bittners.
“They are amazing folks who do a wide range of community service activities in the Jeannette area,” he said.
The couple, married 20 years, met at a Bible study through a mutual friend in Penn Township. Clyde Bittner came from a family of eight children, and Lucille Bittner is from a family of 10. Their parents emphasized the importance of giving back and putting others before themselves, they said.
Clyde Bittner’s first volunteer experience was 35 years ago, when he started helping out at a food bank. Lucille Bittner often assisted elderly people in her community.
“When I found out about her and what she did, we had that connection — we were helping people,” Clyde Bittner said.
He is an independent minister, serving as the chaplain for the Jeannette Lions Club and ministering at Weatherwood Manor in Greensburg every other week. Bittner, who is legally blind because of age-related macular degeneration, works at the Westmoreland Association for the Blind assembling Army duffel bags.
Lucille Bittner, who has battled anorexia, works part time at Westmoreland Community Action and volunteers by cooking for funeral wakes and special events.
Together, the Bittners help out elderly people throughout Westmoreland County, whether it’s simply visiting with a person, cleaning their home, driving them to doctor appointments or mowing their lawn.
“I don’t care what job it is,” Lucille Bittner said. “I don’t think he does either. We just keep going.”
Neither of them allow their challenges to impede their service.
“Basically, if we can, we will,” she said.
One time, Lucille Bittner welcomed two homeless men into their home for two months. Another time, she gave a friend the bedroom and living room furniture out of their home when he moved into a new house.
“We have had an interesting life,” Clyde Bittner said. “You have your ups and downs and in and outs, but it’s not boring.”
The couple fell on hard times a few years ago, so they enrolled in the Bridges to Prosperity Program in Jeannette, which teaches participants how to overcome poverty. They graduated from the program in 2011, and now they are paying it forward by helping with the program’s “farm market,” through which they sell their homegrown vegetables.
In addition, the Bittners volunteer through the Neighborhood Partnership Program, which aims to beautify the Jeannette community. They help out with clean-ups and replacing old signs. They volunteer at food banks, ring bells for the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign and serve on the Jeannette Redevelopment Authority board.
The couple prefers to stay humble about the many volunteer activities they do.
“There have been very few times we’ve told people what we do,” Clyde Bittner said. “You never tell your left hand what your right hand is doing.”
“I want to continue,” Lucille Bittner said. “I like the impact of someone coming from the negative to the positive.”
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or [email protected].