Outstanding volunteers show true prairie spirit

Randy Dittmar
Randy Dittmar

It was love that brought Randy Dittmar to Saskatoon from Oshawa, and it is his humanity, dedication and creativity that kept him helping others after the loss of his wife from breast cancer 15 years ago and his diagnosis of young-onset Parkinson’s disease a year later at 49 years of age.

Two years later he found himself at a Parkinson Society support group meeting and it was daunting. “I was very discouraged at first, seeing others whose disease was further along. I know now that others often feel the same way when they first go to a group,” he says.

Volunteering with Parkinson Society Saskatchewan has been deeply satisfying for Randy and even fun. After several years attending a support group, the former leader Frank Funk asked Randy to take his place as the group’s Chair. “I had never been a leader before, but I enjoyed helping people and sharing information with them,” he says. Since then, Randy has exemplified enthusiastic and inspiring leadership for close to a decade.

And he has accomplished so much. In addition to being a support group Chair in Saskatoon, he has served for six years as a Board member, produced a 20-minute cable TV video about Parkinson’s disease and exercise and a shorter version for the 3rd World Parkinson Congress video competition, placing in the top 35 of 118 submissions. His support group started a “Let’s Get Out” program, where the members book a room at a restaurant and “we all eat and shake together,” he jokes. He also introduced the “Stomp Line Dance” to the support group meetings, to help everyone stay alert.

Most recently, he is very proud of a  Parkinson’s support program only for caregivers. “Even I’m not able to attend,” he says. “I was getting requests from caregivers for such a program and there wasn’t one anywhere else in Saskatoon specifically for those dealing with Parkinson’s, so we created it.” Now in its second-year, he’s been thanked many times by grateful caregiver participants. Randy has also produced a short video called “What!! No Caregiver” for the next video competition for the 4th World Parkinson Congress being held in Portland, Oregon in 2016.

In the fundraising arena, Randy is an ardent campaigner. He has organized the community’s participation in the Saskatoon Exhibition Parade for four years and in 2011, he was the Honourary Chair of Parkinson SuperWalk. He was part of the marketing efforts for Saskatoon’s 2009 SuperWalk of the year, winning the honour in a year with 87 participating communities.

“That 2009 win was wonderful and lives on today,” he says. The SuperWalk committee of 2009 recently had a reunion celebration as part of the Parkinson SuperWalk 25th anniversary. Randy’s SuperWalk efforts have also had some funny moments.

When Randy was still working at Saskatoon City Hospital, 10 of his work colleagues surprised him at SuperWalk. They turned up to show their support, dressed as Randy did at work: in a lab coat, blue operating room cap, glasses, and his signature big, black handlebar moustache!

It was tough for them to decide how to outdo this effort the following year. In “The Great Moustache Shaveoff,” they raised $4,100 for Randy to shave off the moustache he’d had for 33 years. “I decided it would be worth it if this money could possibly fund the cure for this terrible disease,” Randy said.

Like Randy, Marc Pittet’s volunteer work is very personal and it began by helping out Parkinson Society Manitoba with fundraising. “Wayne Buchanan told me about the Society’s golf tournament and called me up to ask for my help. He knew my father Henri had Parkinson’s and that I was a supporter.” Three years later, Marc was leading the golf tournament committee and the team achieved incredible results, raising a total of $400,000 over several years. His personal fundraising efforts for Parkinson SuperWalk have also been outstanding, totaling more than $50,000 in 10 years.

Marc has now served on the Regional Advisory Board of Parkinson Society Manitoba for 12 years, the last 10 years as its volunteer Chair. He feels a great sense of accomplishment in the current financial health of the organization, which positions them to make a great difference for people living with Parkinson’s. “When I started with the Board, we were financially dependent on the national organization, now we are able to contribute to the national research, advocacy and education efforts.”

As Chair, Marc also works with other regional leaders from Parkinson Society partners across the country. “We work hard to provide consistent services and information to all Canadians,” he says. “We want everyone to know about Parkinson’s and to get the care and support they need if it strikes their family.”

Marc is proud of the reputation that Manitoba holds of being the most generous province in terms of charitable giving. “We truly support one another.” Maybe it’s the prairie tradition of helping out your neighbours, especially in tough times.

Both Randy and Marc are volunteers whose leadership exemplifies this caring spirit that is having a tremendous positive impact on the lives of thousands of Canadians every day.  We are grateful for their service and commitment.