‘Hero of the Heartland’

Senior citizen Edwin Winter is Marion County’s choice for “Hero of the Heartland.” He received the honor because he is “an ordinary person who does extraordinary things,” which is the North Central Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging’s criteria for a senior hero.

An active member of the senior-citizen community, Winter serves as chairman of the board of Marion County Senior Citizens. And in July, his fellow Marion County seniors voted him their Hero of the Heartland.

“It’s supposed to be somebody who’s been at work with the senior programs and other outstanding local events,” Winter said. “They insisted I be the hero this year.”

Winter, 82, and heroes representing 17 other counties in the agency will be honored in a video presentation Sept. 17 during the Senior Fair at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.

What does it take to be a senior-citizen hero?

The list of social-service accomplishments in Winter’s life is a testimony to the man behind the title.

In addition to serving as chairman of the board of Marion County Senior Citizens, he is active in the Durham’s Lions Club, works as a health-insurance representative for Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas and is active in Marion County Hospice.

In the past, he served on the Durham School Board, was appointed as a Silver Haired Legislator and was a member of the Area Agency on Aging’s Board of Directors.

Born southeast of Durham on a farm near the Cottonwood River, Winter was one of three brothers growing up with three sisters.

He earned his diploma from Durham High School in 1937. After graduation, he attended Wichita Business College and earned a business degree from there in 1939.

“After I graduated from business college, I couldn’t get a job back then in the 1930s, so I stayed on the farm, and that was that,” Winter said.

Wife Alice, now 79, moved to the family homestead with him after they were married Dec. 25, 1945.

“She was born on Christmas Day, and she wouldn’t give up until I married her on Christmas Day,” Winter said with a chuckle.

On a farm that had “quite a few livestock and crops,” the couple raised three children. Wanda Unruh now lives in rural Lindsborg, Larry Winter in Silver Lake and Wayne Winter in Salina.

Today, the Winter family tree includes seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

The couple retired in 1997 to a home in Hillsboro, where they currently live.

Winter said he served on the Durham School Board for 18 years, and some of those years involved controversy amid issues of unification and consolidation.

“When unification came along, I got roped in as the representative from the Durham district,” he said.

“There was a lot of unhappiness with the closing of the Durham school, and I got blamed. But I felt like I made the right move because I was definitely interested in education and still am.”

As a charter member of the Durham Lions Club, Winter said he has been involved with the organization for 45 years and has a perfect attendance record.

“You can miss a meeting, but you can make them up,” he said.

He also helped start new Lions Clubs in other communities, such as the one in Hillsboro.

“I was very involved in ‘Lionism,’ Winter said. “I was district governor back in 1966 and 1967 and on the governor’s cabinet for about 15 to 20 years. And I finally had to say ‘No’ to some of the responsibility.

“I still go to the Durham Lions Club, but I’m not as heavily involved.”

Another feather in his cap is the honor of being on the original Kansas Silver Haired Legislature when they were first organized. And he served two three-year terms in that position from 1983 to 1989.

The Silver Haired Legislature is designed to provide an opportunity for seniors 60 and over to have a voice and participate in the political process at the state legislative level.

Its members develop bills and resolutions, which are presented to the Kansas legislature and the governor, as recommendations for state policies.

During his two terms as a Silver Haired Legislator, he voiced his concern for the need for adequate funding for senior-citizen programs, Winter said.

“The first year, it felt like we never got a foot in the door-they have the lobbyist come in, and they carry a lot of weight,” he said.

But after the first year, evidence of progress was made.

“They’ll ask everyone from each county what he or she has from their particular county to bring to the state legislature,” he said.

“And they’ll take maybe six or eight bills or resolutions to their meeting in Topeka and act on them there.”

His work with the Area Agency on Aging’s Board of Directors started in the mid 1990s and consumed six years of his active life as a senior-citizen representative.

Each county has two representatives on the board, and Winter served two three-year terms.

One of those years as a member of the board, Winter served as chairman.

“There’s so much activity on the area agency that you pretty much have to be a Philadelphia lawyer to keep up with it,” he said.

“But we’ve strived to get more funds (for senior programs), and we’ve been fairly successful.”

Winter now presides as chairman of the board of Marion County Senior Citizens-a position he’s held at least six times in the past.

“It’s a three-year term, and this time I’m in my first year of my term.”

His work in the county senior group began 52 years ago.

“I’ll tell you how that happened,” Winter said. “We had two outfits in Hillsboro and two outfits in Marion calling themselves senior citizens. They couldn’t get any county funds and couldn’t get any state funds. They finally merged, and that’s how we came up with the senior citizens of Marion County-we merged.”

When his name was recommended for the board half a century ago, he said he hesitated because he was already on the school board and in the Lions Club.

“I’m the kind of fellow if I can’t do a job, I don’t want to take the position,” Winter said. “But they talked me into it, and I haven’t been sorry since. We’ve made so much progress in the counties. We’re growing by leaps and bounds-not just in Marion County but all over.”

He said as chairman, he is concerned about the recent state budget cuts announced by Gov. Bill Graves Aug. 15, which will affect the care act that provides in home-services such as housekeeping and chores to help low-income elderly people stay in their homes.

“The number of senior citizens are growing, but the funds are dwindling,” he said.

“You can’t do anything without money. And that’s why we’re so thankful for our volunteers.”

As a fellow volunteer, Winter has been trained in the Area Agency on Aging’s insurance program called SCHICK-Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas-to help seniors chose health insurance.

“I have a room full of books at my house, and if anybody has any questions about insurance, I look it up.”

And last, but certainly not least, in his list of credentials, Winter is involved with rekindling the Marion County Hospice program as part of his responsibilities as chairman of the board of Marion County Senior Citizens.

“It kind of fell by the wayside, and we’ve gotten it reinstated again now,” Winter said. “We’re kind of working in the tri-county area-Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties-and we have a pretty good hospice going now.”

Winter said participation in social organizations and his involvement in senior-citizen activities come naturally to him after years of giving talks and conducting meetings.

“It’s a gift of God that I can do that, and I want to exercise it as long as I can,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”

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