The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

In the Spotlight

February 22, 2013

Retiree finds purpose at St. Vincent de Paul

Selling furniture at thrift store keeps volunteer active

JOHNSTOWN — Mickey Kohler, his fellow volunteers and the staff at St. Vincent de Paul Society are fulfilling the mission of the organization by reaching out to people in need.

The organization helps people in need in a variety of ways, such as providing food and clothing, helping to pay for dentist and doctor visits, and helping with rent and utilities.

In addition to a kitchen in downtown Johnstown where the organization serves hot meals to hundreds of folks daily and a food-distribution center in Johnstown, it has a thrift store that provides people in need with items such as clothing and furniture.

The store, located at Central Avenue and Osborne Street in the 8th Ward, also sells furniture, clothing and other items to people who are not in need to raise money to pay for necessities for the less fortunate, Kohler said.

Kohler, who has been selling furniture at the thrift store for many years, said the organization works closely with Catholic Charities and First United Methodist Church in downtown Johnstown to help people.

The cost to meet some needs can be too much for one organization to bear, so the three share the expense, he said.

“Volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul and helping people in need has given me more of a reason to live,” said Kohler, a Sidman area resident.

All of the volunteers and staff enjoy helping people, he said.

Kohler started volunteering for the society in late 1997, when he retired as executive director of the Cambria County Medical Society and as managing director of the Physicians and Dentists Service Bureau.

Both entities operated out of the same headquarters in the 8th Ward at that time.

Kohler was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in May of that year, but working kept the symptoms suppressed, he said.

Upon retiring in October and consequently becoming less active, the symptoms worsened to the point that he needed a wheelchair.

Fearful of becoming bedridden, Kohler strove to become active again.

“I started looking for a place to volunteer and ended up at the St. Vincent de Paul Society,” he said.

He started off working in the office, interviewing people who were in need to see how the society could help them.

Ater two years of doing that, he started selling furniture.

“We will sell the furniture and other items to anyone,” he said.

“The money from the sale of the items is used for the doctor and dentist visits, heat bills and other expenses,” he said.

“We sell a lot of furniture,” Kohler said, adding that they have a wide variety of items. “We have a saying that if we don’t have it, it hasn’t been made yet.”

All of the furniture and other items for sale are donated by area residents, he said.

“We think it’s wonderful,” he said.

Kohler helps at the thrift store two days a week.

“I love it,” he said about volunteering. “It’s not only meeting all the people from all walks of life, but the camaraderie with the other volunteers is just a great social day for me.”

All the volunteers get along well and like to joke around with each other, he said.

“Linda keeps taking my commission when I am not there,” he said about how he teases one person by making it sound as though they are getting paid for selling furniture when in fact they do not.

Linda Lowes, assistant manager of the thrift store, said Kohler is great at helping the customers.

Kohler is friendly and loves to talk to people, she said. That personality is an asset because he is then able to get to know and understand the needs of the customers, she said.

Kohler and the other the volunteers are dedicated and go above and beyond what a volunteer normally is expected to do, Lowes said.

Franny Boring, a volunteer cashier at the thrift store,

said Kohler is friendly and knowledgeable about many subjects.

“He makes people feel at ease,” she said. “When a customer comes in, he helps them in any way that he can.

“I think he volunteers for the camaraderie with the other volunteers and for the goodness in his heart. We like Mickey. He’s special to us.”

Debe Graffius, another volunteer cashier, said Kohler likes to help people.

“He’s very kind and understanding, and that helps him to serve the customer better,” she said.

Kohler also has a great sense of humor, she said.

“He’s very funny,” she said. “He has the best clean jokes.”

During his career, Kohler was recognized by the state Department of Health for his role in helping people during the 1977 Johnstown Flood.

Kohler, in his role as head of the Cambria County Medical Society, worked to coordinate emergency medical services between the Health Department and the Johnstown medical community.

Kohler and his wife of 52 years, Marion, live on the family farm that his great-great-grandfather, the late Peter Emigh, bought in 1830.

Kohler and his wife have five children, Clair Koval, Pittsburgh; Anne Kohler, Cleveland; Lisa Kohler, State College; Paul Kohler, Richmond, Va.; and Adam Kohler, Denver; and six grandchildren.

“We’re proud of all of them,” he said.

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