Volunteers Get a Kick Out of Playing Iconic Mascots

The next time you see a big, furry mascot walking around town, it might be Bob or Kathy Salm.

The Retired & Senior Volunteer Program members never miss a chance to serve their community by dressing in costume for local causes. The Appleton couple is among more than 300 members of RSVP who volunteer throughout the Fox Cities. The program is sponsored by Volunteer Fox Cities.

McGruff the Crime Dog shows up all over the community to promote crime awareness and personal security, and even has time to knock down a few pins with his bowling partner, Capt. Potter.

Kathy played Clifford the Big Red Dog and Sparky the Fire Dog. Bob has fond memories of appearing as Smokey the Bear and Cat in the Hat.

“Whenever an opportunity comes along to be a different mascot,” Bob said, “it’s kind of fun to say that you can put that down on your resume!”

That opportunity comes along quite often at the Appleton Police Department. In fact, the Salms are VIPS there.

They participate in Volunteers in Police Service, a program of the Appleton Police Department designed for volunteers to help promote relationships between the department and the community. A popular component of this program is McGruff the Crime Dog. They have been portraying McGruff during community outreach events for years.

Kathy recalls a National Night Out event when a 5 year-old girl wrapped her arms around Bob, who was wearing his McGruff costume.

“She was following Bob around saying, ‘Puppy, puppy!’ she said, “and kept bringing him cookies.”

Bob said they are surprised at the recognition they receive as the McGruff mascot.

“When we go to any kind of event, whether it’s a walk or a special school function, one thing we are amazed at is how many people remember McGruff from when they were little kids,” he said.

According to Bob, they are hooked on volunteering.

“It’s so much fun,” he said. “Not only is it fun, but we know that we are helping people. We live in such a wonderful area. We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. There are so many people who volunteer to help one another. We really, really, enjoy it.”

They also help with the drug drop, where individuals can drop off unused and expired medications, over-the-counter medications, pet medications and inhalers at the drop box located inside the Appleton Police Department’s lobby.

Assistant to the Chief and Volunteer Coordinator Beth Jasiak, (from left) Kathy and Bob Salm and Appleton Chief of Police Todd Thomas gather after the Salms received the Volunteers of the Year award at the APD Honor Assembly at the Red Lion Hotel & Conference Center during National Police Week last May.

They join other volunteers every few months to empty the totes at the police station, separate the pills and prepare boxes to be shipped to a facility that destroys them using an environmentally safe method. 

They also help with a variety of special projects at the APD.

The couple also volunteers at Vets & Friends of Wisconsin, a military veteran’s organization in Appleton. They were involved with Rebuilding Together Fox Valley for more than a decade and serve as ushers at NewVoices Choir (formerly White Heron Chorale) and helped at the Trout Museum and Art in the Park, Community First Fox Cities Marathon and Center for Suicide Awareness.

Bob also places books on the shelves at the Appleton Public Library and hosts seminars and Morning @ the Movies, a monthly program that features a family-friendly film. He welcomes people and makes sure the film – and the popcorn – are ready to go.

“It’s always a lot of fun,” he said.

He considers the library his second home.

“The library always has been one of my favorite places,” he said. “Since I like it so much I thought I might as well give some of my time to it as a volunteer.”

They love to travel and have made trips to Russia any many countries in Europe and all the cruise ports in the Caribbean. They also have plans to visit all 50 states.

“We have six or seven left to go,” Bob said.