Caring in Action

by Judy Goodman

At Maryville University, key community outreach programs ― the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic and Kids Rock Cancer ― are fortunate to have the support and participation of many volunteers. Two star volunteers, Lillie Niebuhr and Ryan Cockerham, stand out because of their support for these programs. Both confirm that the experience has been positive for them as well.

Lillie Niebuhr, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on April 13, 2021, has long been involved with the Walker Clinic.

In fact her husband, August L. “Gus” Niebuhr, was integral to the launch of the Clinic, originally, and the subsequent expansion of outreach services into underserved communities. Gus passed away peacefully in 2010 at the age of 91. He was a Mason, a Shriner, and a retired sergeant in the St. Louis Police Department.

To help reach more children, Gus drove a Walker Scottish Rite Clinic outreach van and Lillie rode along, taking the speech therapists to various small towns outside of St. Louis where the Walker Clinic provided services. While the therapists were busy working with children, Lillie and Gus would explore the town and distribute literature about the Clinic. Gus drove the van until he was about 85 years old, when he decided he was too old to continue.

“I was raised in Leslie, Missouri, and felt comfortable being in all the small towns,” Lillie said. “We appreciated spending that time together and helping the Clinic. And, we always attended fundraisers and supported the golf tournament.”

Lillie continued to come into the Clinic about once a week, depending on what was needed. “I really enjoyed taking care of the photos of families and making sure they were included chronologically in an album. It was so nice to have pictures of the children, catching them when they were engaged in a special activity,” Lillie added.

Since 2012, Lillie has lived in an independent living center. She supports the Clinic monetarily, adding “leaves to the Giving Tree” on the Clinic wall every year. While she says she misses the direct activity, she recognizes that things change as you age. She loves a good book and likes to sew and do embroidery.

A commitment to volunteerism is often passed from one generation to the next, as parents and grandparents serve as role models. That was the case for Ryan Cockerham, ’14, who says he has been a volunteer for most of his life.

“I was born and raised with six siblings in an environment of giving and service, thanks to my parents and grandparents,” said Cockerham. “Giving back has always been part of our lives. I have been blessed to have opportunities that bring me joy on an intrinsic level because it’s not something I have to go out and find, it’s natural and meaningful.”

Cockerham has been involved with the DeMolay Youth Organization, a worldwide organization that develops leadership skills and encourages youth-led responses to community needs, such as hunger, homelessness, illness, and veterans’ causes. Service partner foundations include the Scottish Rite RiteCare Speech and Language Clinics for children, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Relay for Life and many more worthwhile causes worldwide.

During his active youth years with DeMolay, Cockerham served as leader for the State of Missouri and represented the Scottish Rite RiteCare Speech and Language Clinic, which has 180+ nationwide clinics. He considers the Walker Clinic at Maryville the flagship program in the U.S. While earning his degree in communications at Maryville, Cockerham created an educational and promotional video for the Clinic.

“I’ve always been fascinated by language and how human beings historically progressed through the evolution of language,” he said. “To help children express themselves, by giving them a way to speak and communicate effectively and openly, is one of the most crucial issues on our planet.”

Currently, Cockerham works with Sheri Mistretta, executive director of The LIGHT Foundation. The foundation was founded in 2016 by the Cockerham family and close friends, with the shared mission to generate leadership and development opportunities for today’s youth.

Cockerham supports the needs of both the Walker Clinic and Kids Rock Cancer. He is also involved with special events and fundraising programs for these special services, such as the annual golf tournament and Trivia Night.

“These relationships organically developed over time,” Cockerham explained. “When I came across Kids Rock Cancer, I was naturally drawn to help this program, as I am an avid musician and true believer in the healing value of music therapy. Humankind is just beginning to touch the surface of scientific understanding of what’s possible through music, and being able to see these unique opportunities brought to children ― especially children in need ― has been rewarding beyond measure. I like to share my passions with others.”

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