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Two men honored as 'Volunteers of the Year'

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Phil Compton, 91, wheels Edgar Baldwin, 90, outside the cafeteria at E.Wilson Morrison Elementary School in Front Royal on Friday. The pair, who have been volunteering with first-grade students since 1990, were recognized as the school’s volunteers of the year. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

Since 1990, Edgar Baldwin and Phil Compton have been assisting first graders at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School with their reading skills. On Thursday, they were named "Volunteers of the Year" at the school's staff luncheon.

Baldwin, 90, came to the Warren County school where his wife, Anna, worked as a teacher. A few years ago he suffered some health complications that kept him from coming to the school, but he put in 17 years with the kids. He said he was given an assignment every morning before working with the children, as to what specific things they needed help with.

While the students learned from reading with him, Baldwin said his personal experience was similar.

"Oh mercy me, I've learned something from every one of them," he said. "The thing you get impressed with is the different make up of each child, how very different they are. Some could read well, and others not so much."

"All of it was a great experience, and I made a lot of little friends," Baldwin added.

Both Baldwin and Compton were presented with an engraved glass gift thanking them for their years of volunteering.

Compton, who will be 92 next week, has traveled the world following his fascination with aviation. He was an aeronautics engineer and serviced a tour of duty with the Army Corp of engineers.

"He is one of the most optimistic people you will every meet," said Margret Holmes, the school's principal. "I want to be just like you when I grow up, Mr. Compton."

Compton reads with first graders at the elementary school Monday through Thursday every week. According to the first grade teachers, students have to earn the chance to read with the volunteer.

"When they know Mr. Compton is coming, you're bombarded with hands flying in the air and 'Can I read with Mr. Compton?' and "Is it my turn,'" said teacher Jessica Vacca.

"More than anything, he builds up their confidence," said Jessica Hamilton, also a first grade teacher. "Some of them aren't the greatest readers, but he tells them they're wonderful no matter what."

Angie Patton, another first grade teacher, said her 13-year-old daughter still remembers and talks about "reading with Mr. Compton."

"It sticks with the kids, and they remember his stories," she said.

However, Holmes said that while the kids enjoy building their reading skills with Compton, they often gain just as much from the in-between conversations.

"A lot of them lack a grandparent figure, and that's where he steps in," she said. "It's not just about the books, sometimes they just need to talk."

Compton agreed, saying the children love to tell their own stories.

"It's nice to get a relationship going with them," he said. "But they're really just eager to learn. Sometimes they want to know the meaning of a word or sentence, but in the end they always want to know more."

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