At 81, RSVP member Cal Gardner is still driving – every day.
He drives a shuttle at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center and the Housing Authority and recently began driving the Fox Valley Warming Shelter van, transporting the agency’s clients to downtown Appleton and other important destinations. And since the first of the year, he has logged 3,683 miles driving a van for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Transportation Program.
Since he started driving for the DAV in 2009, he has logged 60,000 miles. He also volunteers for the Aging & Disability Resource Center in Calumet County, where he has volunteered 345 hours and driven 13,600 miles. Those miles, he says, are a “conservative estimate.”
“I’m quite fortunate myself being over 80 and still being able to help folks who are not as fortunate as myself,” he said.
Gardner is a longtime driver at the Appleton clinic, where he also rides along with first-time volunteer drivers to help them learn the routes. Dick Marbes, the volunteer manager for the northern division of the DAV Transportation Program, says the agency is thankful for his service.
“We really appreciate Cal’s service and his longevity in the Appleton programs, Marbes said. “He knows exactly the benefit of the program.”
Gardner served in the motor pool of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division. His passion for helping fellow veterans began when he was volunteering at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King. Once a week for 10 years, he took veterans fishing in the facility’s pontoon boat.
“At lunch one day I met a veteran of the Screaming Eagles 101st Airborne,” he said. “He was assigned to the glider division because of his eyesight. I told him about the Honor Flight and he wanted to go.”
Eventually, Gardner accompanied him on an Honor Flight and says the trip was the highlight of his life.
“I was honored to be a companion for him on the Old Glory Flight,” he said. “He was 95 and I couldn’t keep up with him!”
Over the years, Gardner has collected many volunteer awards and Certificates of Appreciation from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
He has logged more than 100,000 miles since he started volunteering 15 years ago.
When he isn’t volunteering, he is walking 1 mile at the Fox River Mall and traveling with his wife, Mary Ann.