When Dot Cofer attended the McDuffie County Commission meeting last Wednesday morning, she thought she was meeting nine others there for a presentation. Instead, Chairman Charlie Newton announced Mrs. Cofer as the McDuffie County Senior Citizen of the Year.
"I knew I could get her because I've been best friends with her for a long time, and I know what turns her on and what turns her off, so I knew how to get her here," said Doris Belcher, who nominated Mrs. Cofer for the award. "We are both retired as county extension agents, so I know what all she's done. ... All the countless people who have benefited from the health fair in 32 years, that's enough to nominate her."
As the organizer of the county's health fair, Mrs. Cofer can tell numerous stories of people who benefited from the event. She remembers one time when the lab called her Saturday evening after the fair and requested the doctor's name and phone number of a patient whose blood chemistry showed signs of a heart attack. After being notified, the doctor called the patient, and two days later he underwent by-pass surgery.
"And the doctor told him that the health fair saved his life," Mrs. Cofer said.
The long-time volunteer tells many similar stories of people who said their health fair tests detected hyper tension, blood cell count, diabetic, kidney and cancer problems and enabled them to seek early treatment, possibly saving their lives.
"It's things like that that gives me the energy to keep on going," the 71-year-old Mrs. Cofer said, adding that the last two years have been difficult due to the death of her mother and her husband having surgery right before the health fair. "But my volunteers have been volunteering for the same job for so many years, they just know how to do it automatically. I couldn't do it without the volunteers."
This year, the health fair had approximately 120 volunteers who worked at 50 educational exhibits and performed approximately 17 medical tests or screenings.
In her nomination letter, Ms. Belcher said the McDuffie County Health Fair differs from others because Mrs. Cofer follows up with the patients, sending test results to the patients and the doctors and writes patients notes encouraging them to see their doctor or praising them for test results that improved from the previous year.
"This is a labor of love because she feels that people need that personal touch," Mrs. Belcher said. "For her, the fair does not stop when the doors close at noon. It is only the beginning."
Mrs. Cofer moved to Thomson in 1969 when she became the county extension agent. She became involved with the extension after being heavily involved in the 4-H Club as a student.
"4-H is so good to give so many opportunities that otherwise I would not have had," she said. "4-H made me what I am today. It has a special place in my heart."
After her retirement 30 years later, Mrs. Cofer became a substitute high school teacher, a hunter safety instructor and a carrier of the Olympic torch through Thomson.
"I was hopping up and down with excitement as I was running down the street with it," she said with a laugh.
She has served on several county volunteer boards/events, including the American Cancer Society as local educational chairwoman, the American Heart Association, Cities-In-Schools, Habitat for Humanity, CSRA Community Enterprise, the Senior Citizen Center and the McDuffie Health Coalition.
She and Wendy, her husband of 25 years, have been on several mission trips through the First United Methodist Church of Thomson, where Mrs. Cofer also serves as Sunday School vice president and on the church council. She also volunteers monthly at the McDuffie Medical Mission, which is sponsored by the church. The ministers of the church attended the commission meeting to see Mrs. Cofer being honored.
"What made it so special was my church ministers being there. It was touching that they cared enough to come," Mrs. Cofer said with tears in her eyes. "My church is the most important thing in my life."