Lower Gwynedd >>Sometimes it takes a guy like Hank Stoebenau to remind us what a meaningful change we can make in this world by volunteering in our community.
From his work on the Lower Gwynedd Municipal Authority Board, to his time spent in the air transporting sick patients to the treatment they desperately need, Stoebenau’s commitment to serving his community is proof enough as to why he was named this year’s Lower Gwynedd Citizen of the Year. Stoebenau was honored at the township’s annual volunteer banquet at the William Penn Inn Nov. 20.
“It’s basically the Citizen of the Year out of the people who volunteer for township positions on various boards,” Stoebenau said of the award. “I’m on what’s known as the municipality board; the more colloquial term is the sewer authority. I’ve been on it since 2006.”
The 70-year-old retired engineer at Rohm and Haas said he learned he’d been named this year’s honoree under somewhat false pretenses. Township Manager Larry Comunale had called to say he wanted to discuss with Stoebenau the future of the municipal authority, but actually just needed an excuse to bring him into the township building to give him the good news. The news was quite a surprise, he said.
“I’m still somewhat floored by it,” he said. “When I look at some of the previous recipients, I’m in good company.”
Outside of his work with the township, Stoebenau serves as a board member of the Woodbridge Meadow Home Owners Association.
He’s also served, for the past 12 years, as a pilot in the Angel Flight East program, which flies seriously ill patients across the country for free in order to receive the life saving treatment they need. He’s since been added to Angel Flight’s board of directors. Initially, he admitted, his involvement with the organization wasn’t done completely for altruistic reasons.
“If you’re going to be a pilot, be a safe pilot, you need to fly a reasonable amount,” he said. “The pilot pays for everything for these Angel Flights, no reimbursement. But, it’s a tax deduction. So, to some extent, it’s slightly subsidized.”
The program offered a chance to gain some time in the sky and a tax break. Once he began to see the type of good, lifesaving work he was doing, though, he was hooked.
“After you do a couple trips you see how lucky you are to be there for these people that need a transport,” he said, “because they have to make repetitive trips for treatment of various problems, and many times they can’t afford them. If they didn’t have the services of an organization like Angel Flight East, they might not be able to get the treatment, and that’s a tragedy.”
Those who know Stoebenau have said he’s the type of person who will do whatever is asked of him without any hesitation and will shy away from the limelight.
“He’s a steady presence at the municipal authority,” said Comunale. “And the municipal authority essentially builds sewer lines, so it’s not real sexy. But Hank’s been a board member for many years; he’s a real solid member there as the treasurer. He’ll do whatever is asked of him and he’ll do it with quiet efficiency. He doesn’t ask for credit. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he does, you really want to pay attention.”
The township received two letters of recommendation nominating Stoebenau for the award, and Comunale said his work with Angel Flight played a big role in that.
It’s been said that behind every great man is an even greater woman, and Stoebenau credits his wife for the role she’s played in influencing him to volunteer.
“My involvement in volunteering in a couple of organizations … was kind of a learned attribute,” he said. “It was learned by observing my wife, who does a lot of volunteer work [and] has all the time from when we moved here [in] 1978. She got involved in the school, subsequently served on the school board for nine years, then after retiring from a career at Merck, she immediately found meaningful volunteer work recording textbooks for the blind … She’s always been involved in volunteer work. She never said you ought to volunteer. It was just obvious how much joy — how much she got out of it.”
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Hank,” Comunale said. “He’s low key. I wouldn’t consider him flamboyant by any stretch, or flashy. He’s one of these guys that will do whatever is asked, whatever service you need, whatever you need to have done he’s there.”