The 93-year-old man hobbled along the sidewalk next to his small Asbury Road home, using a wooden cane for balance.
His Korean War veteran baseball cap was pulled down low against a biting wind.
“I have a hard time seeing these days, too” he said as he took his time.
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I was there to take him to Medical Associates through DuRide, a popular local volunteer transport program. He didn’t want any help getting into my car.
We had a pleasant conversation and I thanked him for his service on the way to his drop-off. He proudly told me about his wilder days as a young, strong serviceman.
Later, I took an 80-something Asian woman from the Gay Park neighborhood to the Asbury Plaza HyVee. She used a four-pronged steel cane.
“I used to be very independent,” she said as we drove past Wahlert High School. “I could get up and go anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted.”
Her children live hundreds of miles away. She sees them maybe once a year.
“But they have their own lives to live,” she said.
I’m a volunteer dabbler. A little bit here, a little bit there. Just enough to contribute, but not too much to make it seem like a job. I’m retired, after all.
This is especially true in the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging Meals on Wheels program.
Although I help deliver just once a week, I’ve become friends with several of the wonderful regulars — especially Karen and her friend Peaches, who are as kooky as I am.
A few of us gather for lunch once a week at Knicker’s, where you’ll usually find a group of men playing poker in the back and a group of women playing euchre or bridge in the front. Karen, Peaches and I down our pizzas and burgers with an ice-filled glass of Michelob Ultra (I am retired, after all).
Primarily, though, we deliver. Karen and I share a route with 13-14 recipients. She mostly drives while I do most of the running. It takes about 45 minutes.
A couple of the people on our route are nearly bed-ridden. Others are elderly couples coping with an aging existence. Bill always can be found in his comfy chair. He once told me about his powerful father, the toughest man in his neighborhood.
Then there’s 99-year-old Mary. Her hearing aids don’t always work well. But she never stops smiling and she aims to reach 100. Her sweet “thank-yous” make it all worth it.
Every volunteer organization I’ve dabbled with needs more help. Most of the people I’ve worked alongside also volunteer at multiple places. Many spend far more hours at it than I do.
Now, I’m not going to try to make my fellow baby boomers feel guilty — you know what, maybe I will. If you’re a healthy retired person who isn’t involved in your community, why not? Especially if you’re a religious person. Aren’t we obligated to serve others?
Many of the places that need help aren’t asking for huge commitments. Mentoring through the Dubuque Community Schools can be as little as 30 minutes per week. DuRide allows you to pick as many or as few drives as you want.
You will be joining a corps of great people while serving another corps of great people. We were all taught as youngsters that it is better to give than to receive. I hope one day if I need help, there will be enough volunteers for all of us boomers.
When that 93-year-old Korean War veteran and I reached Medical Associates, I asked him if he wouldn’t like someone to bring out a wheelchair to make it a little easier.
“No, I’d like to keep walking for as long as I can,” he said. “Thank you so much for the ride.”