WESTMORELAND — I interrupted Donna LaBuz about 10 minutes into our interview when I noticed that her watchband was glowing green.
“I’ve got flashing earrings at home,” she laughed. “It uplifts. People think what crazy thing is she going to do next? I’m in the season of whatever!”
It was St. Patrick’s Day and LaBuz was dressed all in green with butterflies embroidered on her shirt. The service at Westmoreland United Methodist Church began with “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”
Last week the Clinton Record celebrated its first year of publication. My first #BeMoreWestmo column appeared in the second issue so this week I am celebrating my one year with this publication by writing about Donna LaBuz. She appears somewhat regularly in this column because she’s one of my favorite people in Westmoreland.
Psalm 95:1 says, “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.”
When she was at the Ash Wednesday service at Lowell Methodist Church it gave me joy to hear her voice lead all of us in song. So many people in my town have been lucky enough to experience her music. She so generously shares her gifts.
“Donna LaBuz has an excellent voice that she uses for the glory of God,” Pastor Fred Bailey of the Lowell Methodist Church says. “Every time we have an ecumenical service at the Lowell UMC, I ask if she will sing. She never says no. She has an amazing vocal range. Her dedication to serving God with the gift He has given her has never diminished.”
“How do you feel when you sing?” I asked her.
“I almost go into a different mode,” she reflected. The preparation for singing at a funeral is difficult, especially when it is for a member of her family. For church she prays that her voice will do the job of sharing the message. I’m sure everyone would agree that it always does.
“I think of your voice as a guiding light,” I told her. “Whenever I see you on the altar, I listen for it.”
One of her favorite hymns is “Victory in Jesus,” written by an early 20th century gospel singer/songwriter, E.M. Bartlett.
The song says: “I heard about the street of gold beyond the crystal sea. About the angels singing and the old redemption story. Oh and some sweet day I’ll sing up there the song of victory”
“It’s very uplifting, very spiritual,” she said. “Lent is a somber time but I’m waiting for the victory of Easter.”
“Early on in life, I thought why sing softly?” She said. “There is a purpose to the songs.”
“We love Donna and her sense of humor,” Pastor Bailey’s wife, Anne-Louise added. “Her sense of humor is always welcome at the ecumenical services, or at any event! At the Thanksgiving ecumenical service at the Hecla Congregationalist Church last fall she had us in stitches after the service.”
Bailey noted how LaBuz attends ecumenical services in Westmoreland often.
“I am a Christian first, not necessarily one denomination or another,” LaBuz explains. “Christ is in all churches. Christians are in all churches. I’ve been to monasteries. I’ve been to bar mitzvahs. My faith has brought a view instead of tunnel vision.”
“How would you define a Christian?” I asked.
She thought for a moment and said: “A person who believes in God. Studies. Prays. Tries to help his neighbors and does what they can for their family.”
Her faith has grown stronger as time has gone on. She described it as “more learned, because of more practice.”
“Faith takes work, doesn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “It is supposed to. He wants it to.”
Donna LaBuz is a lifelong resident of Westmoreland. She and her husband have two sons and three grandchildren. She has always been a member of the Westmoreland United Methodist Church, it has always been important to her life.
There are three sacraments in the Protestant church. Baptism, marriage, and funeral rites. “Hatching, matching, and dispatching,” LaBuz calls them, and for decades she has sung at all of them for more people than she can count. She says it is all about commitment to other people and to God, and what she can offer.
The Westmoreland Grange twice picked her for “Citizen of the Year.” Anna Kunz, the legendary founder of the Westmoreland Town Pool presented her with one of them.
“It’s important to do all you can to be of service to your community,” she said. “Use the gifts that God has given you. Don’t keep them hidden under a bushel basket where no one can see them. We’re here for a purpose. Until He calls us, we’re supposed to use our gifts.”
Westmoreland is glad Donna LaBuz puts hers to such good use.
Ron Klopfanstein welcomes your questions, comments, and story ideas. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo.