Born and bred in the Armidale region, Ruth Ann Blanch has been involved with an impressive number of community groups, and at nearly 88 years old, she is showing no sign of slowing up.
This energy, enthusiasm, and commitment are recognised in the 2021 Queen's Birthday honour list.
Mrs Blanch has been awarded the Order of Australia Medal for her service to the Armidale community.
She has contributed to more than 11 organisations, including the NSW Country Women's Association (CWA), Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, the Ascent Group, church groups, and the region's Special Olympics branch. In many of those groups, she has held executive positions.
While this is one of several awards Mrs Blanch has received during the last thirty years (including the Premiers Volunteer Award in 2017), it is the one that has surprised her the most.
"Armidale has been a wonderful place to live, and it has been an absolute joy to be part of the community," Mrs Blanch said.
"I think it is because of Greg that I have been involved with so many things."
Mrs Blanch moved to the town of Armidale from Wollun in late 1981 with her husband, who was dying of leukemia, and her children - including her six-year-old son Greg who has Down Syndrome.
"I've certainly enjoyed everything with which I have been involved," she said.
"I am not so involved with leadership roles as I used to be, but I am still a part of many groups, which is very special."
St Peters Cathedral and the Interchurch Women's Group have been important in her life, Mrs Blanch says, and as well as attending lectures at the University of the Third Age, she is still involved with the CWA and the Earl Page College.
"Fifteen years ago, I was invited to be on the Senior Common Room Committee," Mrs Blanch said.
"The students are delightful, and it just gives me great faith in Australia's future looking at these wonderful young people who may be our future leaders."
Mrs Blanch said during her many years of volunteering; she had seen a lot of progress over the years in many ways.
"The Ascent Group has grown in strength, Meals on Wheels is growing, the New England Regional Art Museum has gone from strength to strength, and I believe the Old Teacher's College is going to be great," she said. I'm absolutely thrilled with what is happening there."
Mrs Blanch agrees these days, women working full time have little time left to volunteer.
"For young families where mothers are working, their priority has to be towards their children," she said.
"I feel very strongly about that."
But while the CWA membership is not as big as when she started, and members are getting older, there is a benefit of membership to people coming out of the workforce, Mrs Blanch said.
"I feel there is a great opportunity for people to join volunteer groups and share their professional expertise, and also for new members to gain experience," she said.
"Particularly with the CWA, there is an opportunity for cultural development, and to learn handicraft and cookery skills as well as do community service."
There are lots of ways for people to be involved, Mrs Blanch said.
"But there aren't many people my age involved with most things," she laughed.
"I've just had a very joyous life here in Armidale. I've been glad and very humbled to be part of all the things with which I've been involved. "
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