AARP Recognizes Top Alaska Volunteers

Posted on 12/15/22

Party Feeling with Sparklers

Anchorage’s Jill Smythe and Bessie O’Rourke Receive AARP’s Most Prestigious Volunteer Award

AARP’s commitment to volunteer service can be traced back to our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, whose motto was “to serve, not to be served.”

Each year, AARP Alaska honors the legacy of Dr. Andrus with the Andrus Award for Community Service.  Alaskans Gillian “Jill” Smythe and Ruth “Bessie” O’Rourke have been selected by AARP Alaska to receive the 2022 Andrus Award for Community Service—the Association’s most prestigious volunteer award for community service.  Leo Artola, who nominated Ms. Smythe and Ms. O’Rourke, writes:

Jill and Bessie are our most committed volunteers at Food Bank of Alaska.  They volunteer every week in our Sort Room where they sort through donated dry goods to determine what can be distributed to our partner agencies.  Together over the last five years, they have volunteered for nearly 4,200 hours.  Both Jill and Bessie are both retired; however, they choose to spend much of their free time supporting our mission.  They have full autonomy and trust to run the Sort Room without need for additional supervision or redirection.  As the main Sort Room volunteers, Jill and Bessie ensure that our partner agencies get the best donated goods we can provide and safeguard the community by sorting with precision and scrutiny to avoid distributing unsafe food.  As an example of their dedication, canned items have special codes to identify when they were produced; however, each manufacturer has a different coding system.  Jill and Bessie go out of their way to contact individual manufacturers to find out how to read their coding system and have developed a guidebook for keeping track of these confusing codes.  They independently conceived of this idea and regularly update the guide for future volunteer reference.  Jill and Bessie are model volunteers and are leaders for the rest of the Sort Room team.  Their greatest impact is the groundwork they have laid to make working in this volunteer role simple for everyone.     

“Jill and Bessie show the impact that individuals can have on promoting service and volunteerism in leading by example,” said Patrick Curtis, associate state director for outreach at AARP Alaska.

AARP Alaska received nominations for five individuals from across the state, honoring the important contributions made by volunteers over age 50 to their communities, neighbors, and the programs they serve. “Each of the 2022 nominees have inspired others with their dedicated service to their communities.  They show the incredible value of volunteers to communities across Alaska,” said Teresa Holt, state director for AARP Alaska.             

Paul Liedberg – As a volunteer, Paul created and heads the City of Dillingham Friends of the Landfill (FOL). Not a simple recycling group, the FOL is a unique and innovative group created to promote citizen understanding and participation in addressing landfill matters.  Under Paul’s volunteer leadership, the organization has worked with local partner agencies and City staff to package and ship containers of electronics, aluminum, fluorescent lights, fishing netting and other materials out of Dillingham for safe disposal.  FOL has also assisted landfill staff erecting electric fencing around the landfill to deter wildlife and created disposal areas for fish/game waste for subsistence users.  Paul and the FOL have brought together representatives of the Tribal government, regional health corporation, local non-profits, small businesses and citizens to address landfill and recycling needs as active participants rather than observers. 

Mary MangussoAging at Home Fairbanks is a member organization offering support for older adults to live independently and to remain engaged in their community while living in their own homes.  Mary is a volunteer “helpful neighbor” whose volunteer efforts help make living at home a reality for many members.  Mary provides the vital support of safe and reliable transportation and helps other members get to medical appointments, pick up prescriptions, get haircuts, go shopping and socialize.  Mary is highly flexible and accommodates transportation requests inside 24-hours, giving her time and driving skills as an uncompensated volunteer driver.  Through her dedication, kindness and caring, Mary inspires others to volunteer and be part of our neighborhood.  

Phyllis MooreOften giving more than her time, Phyllis has helped with fundraising and even provided items of value to the Palmer Senior Citizens’ Center as part of her philanthropy. Phyllis’ dedication to the center is evident in her efforts to train and educate new volunteers and members on the history of the center and ways to be successful as volunteers. In the community, Phyllis actively promotes the organization. She gives her energy and effort to educating vendors, volunteers and members on how the center benefits area seniors as a cornerstone of independence and support.   

Gillian and Ruth will be recognized for winning the 2022 Andrus Award at a private celebration in 2023.  For more information about the Andrus Award, visit


AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With nearly 38 million members and offices in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, AARP works to strengthen communities and advocate for what matters most to families with a focus on health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also works for individuals in the marketplace by sparking new solutions and allowing carefully chosen, high-quality products and services to carry the AARP name. As a trusted source for news and information, AARP produces the nation's largest circulation publications, AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit or follow @AARP and @AARPadvocates on social media.

This story is provided by AARP Alaska. Visit the AARP Alaska page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

More from AARP in Juneau

Upcoming AARP Events

View All AARP Events »

Find information about getting a COVID-19 vaccine in your state. CDC information is available at; additional AARP information and resources are at En español, visite

AARP Member Card

Join or Renew Today


  • Immediate access to your member benefits
  • Discounts on travel and everyday savings
  • Subscription to the award-winning AARP The Magazine
  • An ally on the issues that matter most to you in Juneau
  • Free membership for your spouse or partner