Ken Hoyle’s LIFE AND LEGACY OF A VOLUNTEER is a combination of a memoir and a “how-to” manual. Its author is a landscape architect who spent most of his life volunteering for various causes. For sixty years, Hoyle planted trees, restored historic buildings, and volunteered as a firefighter at the ripe young age of 69! The book’s subtitle is “True Tales of Teamwork, Trials, and Triumphs leading to Real Change,” making it sound a bit more dramatic than it is. In actuality, Hoyle’s anecdotes vary between interesting and underwhelming. This is understandable: the nature of his work means he frequently wrote letters, participated in meetings, gathered donations, and so on. Like it or not, this is how everyday civic politics works. The fact that the author dedicated so much of his time and energy to such activities is a testament to his patience and goodwill.
Yet, even so, Hoyle’s stories often feel rather vague. We learn the gist of a problem, its resolution, and not much more. This is especially noticeable in chapters pitting Hoyle and his colleagues against disinterested local authorities and powerful private interests. There’s a distinct sense that the author is leaving things unsaid, glossing over some parts, and not naming names. Again, this is understandable, but that doesn’t help to make LIFE AND LEGACY OF A VOLUNTEER more riveting. Where the book truly shines, however, is when Hoyle starts imparting hard-earned wisdom from a lifetime of volunteer work. Consider this quote, for example:
“When the final decision is made, your beloved tree, building, neighborhood, or organization might still be negatively impacted, and it can be heartbreaking. Before embarking on a NO mission, it’s essential to acknowledge the odds. You are putting your heart and soul into something that may have only a slim chance of success. You must develop resilience for the limited time you dedicate to the cause and be prepared to accept the final outcome when the time comes.”
Throughout the book, Hoyle keeps reiterating similar messages: give as much as you take; keep the end in sight and your goals manageable; maintain a balance between your job, your personal life, and volunteer work. Beware of the burnout. Try your best, but don’t get too emotionally attached to an individual project. And the harshest lesson of all: every so often, you will fail. These ideas may sound straightforward, but there’s a power to them clearly stated by someone with decades of experience. One lesson Hoyle returns to is that volunteering is a worthwhile activity; it doesn’t merely benefit the local community but gives meaning to one’s life, enriching it with new experiences and people. That may be the single most valuable message in LIFE AND LEGACY OF A VOLUNTEER.
Ken Hoyle’s LIFE AND LEGACY OF A VOLUNTEER shines brightest when the author relates hard-earned wisdom to volunteers and their organizers.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader