I was born in March of 1938, in St. Louis, MO.
I lived in South St Louis, near Carondelet Park, been there most of my life. I attended a local public school, Woerner Elementary School. Later I attended Our Lady of Sorrows catholic school and Bishop DuBourg High School So, I’m a South City guy!
My parents were both born in St. Louis. My grandfather worked in coal and ice, working delivery with horse and wagon. I have two brothers.
Dad worked at Hampton Envelope Company. He didn’t serve in World War II, exempted because he was a critical employee. He worked there most of his life, was a vice president when he retired. He was a very hard worker. Mother would refer to him as the “jack of all trades, the master of none.” He could fix almost anything. I did not inherit those skills, but my kids did! Our family skills include an electrician, two carpenters, and my daughter is a financial loan broker.
I graduated from Bishop Dubourg High School in 1956 and immediately joined the Army Reserves. It was an 8-year enlistment in the Reserves. During 6 months of training, I served at Fort Leonard Wood. I never served in active duty because our country was in between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. While in high school, I had taken a typing course, not sure why. I remember my dad said, “You don’t want to do what I’m doing.” Get a good job in an office.” So, I took the typing course, and the first thing I was asked in the army was, “Do you know how to type?” Sure! I replied. They placed me in training for a company clerk job, eventually ending up in charge of payroll. I learned over the years that payroll clerks were treated very well! When I got out of the 6 months of service, I accepted a job at the Illinois Terminal Railroad in the Post-Dispatch building downtown. I was hired as a clerk typist, made $100 per week. In 1957 that was good money!
I was single at that time, and bumming around, just recently out of the service. A friend of mine had a 1950 Olds convertible. We were out at 5:00am, drinking and driving down near the River Des Peres in St Louis. The river was dry at the time. and we flipped the car off the road into the river. The car was upside down at the bottom. Because the top was down. we were thrown out of the car. We ended up halfway down the side of the bank of the river. I injured my hand badly (ended up needing a skin graph), but that was about it. I was about nineteen at the time. My friend had a cut on his head, bleeding a lot, but it wasn’t serious. I’d say we both were very lucky.
Back at work, after the accident, I was not able to type and had to find another job. While working various jobs, I began attending Washington University night school to study transportation. I also landed a new job at Dow Chemical in Granite City, IL. I continued going to school and earned an associate degree. Overall, it took me 10 years of night school, but I did it! My degree was in transportation logistics and accounting.
I met my beautiful girlfriend and future-wife Norma in 1958 at Steak ‘n Shake. It was a Drive-In restaurant at that time, and we went quite often. We still go to Steak ‘n Shake and White Castle. White Castles were only 9 cents then! Norma and I married in February 1959. (60 years together this past February).
We had 3 boys and a girl within 4 years.
When our oldest son, Bart, turned 8 years old, he joined the Cub Scouts. Norma said, “Well, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to be a be a den mother.” I said, “Okay, I’ll take him.” I get there and the Cubmaster tells me it’s his last meeting and they need a new leader. So, that was me, I ended up being the Cubmaster. After the meeting I told Norma, “Well, I’m the Cub-master now. You get to be a den mother!” I stayed with the Boy Scouts for 10 years.
Norma ended up even more involved than I. All three of our boys were active in Scouts.
After working at Dow for about 4 years, in 1966, I started at Pet Milk Company, doing logistics program planning, warehousing, and trucking. I worked my way up to Director of Distribution and was there until 1996. The company was purchased Pillsbury and relocated to Minneapolis. Instead of moving, I chose early retirement at the age of 57.
I asked myself, “Great, now what am I going to do?” I had always wanted to learn more about income taxes, so I attended a meeting at AARP and ended up with a volunteer job at Lutheran Senior Services and Jewish Community Center as a volunteer Money Manager, and also a volunteer job with AARP Tax Aide as a Local Coordinator.
I helped people pay bills, most of them lived in apartments. Some of the people were blind and couldn’t manage money. Doing that work, through volunteering at Lutheran Senior Services, I was able to help people pay their bills. Many could no longer even see their checkbooks or read their mail. This led to some of them being scammed by family and or acquaintances. I stayed with them for 15 years.
Being a volunteer money manager for low-income people, I was able to protect people from being scammed and cheated. I felt good about what I was doing.
At AARP (Tax Aid), I started in ’96 and worked as a Local Coordinator (High Ridge, MO) for 22 years. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many people there, many of them veterans and all of them being low income clients. This includes the many volunteers that worked with me during that time.
I found myself doing so much volunteering, it was almost a full-time job. I didn’t know how to say no, I always kept going.
In 1979 I reached a major life decision to quit drinking alcohol. Throughout my life, drinking has caused too many problems. I’ve been in AA for 40 years now. Quitting drinking was the best thing I ever did, holy cow. I attend a meeting every week. An important thing about AA, it requires giving back. You become a sponsor and become responsible for someone else. Other people are looking at your experience and your attitude. It’s the same thing with volunteering. My blood begins to flow when I see someone being cheated or harmed. My past experiences have given me confidence to help them if I can.
In 1982 our daughter Linda had a baby, Jessica, born with cerebral palsy. She couldn’t swallow or drink. Linda & Norma fed her with tubes through the nose. Linda and Jessica moved home with us. Linda went to work, and Norma took care of Jessica all day, every day.
They lived with us for 22 months. Sadly, Jessica died right in our living room. Occasionally, I talk about this at our AA meetings, but I can’t ever make it without tearing up. Even after 40 years. We had enjoyed every minute Jessica was alive. It made my AA experience so much stronger as well.
One day I received a letter from AARP saying there was a volunteer opportunity at the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, now called VOYCE. At first, I wasn’t sure since I didn’t know anything about it. I did know that so many of the people I was helping were moving into nursing homes, so the need was there
So, I decided to attend training at VOYCE. Cheryl Wilson, the Director at VOYCE at the time, told me I could choose the facility I wanted to work in. I had already been working with one man who had been struggling for years. We became good friends. He was placed in a local Alzheimer’s community. That’s where I decided to work as an ombudsman, and really enjoy going there. I’ve visited them for about 15 years.
They have a very good operation and staff. I don’t have many resident issues to deal with there. I’m honored to listen to people share their experiences.
What inspires me to volunteer? I mentioned earlier about feeling the need to help people that are being cheated or that do not have the ability to fix the problems they have. This can be with their finances, living conditions, or personal relationships.
What I like about VOYCE is the training they give you. I attend all they offer. The resources they offer is what gives me the confidence to give people advice and assistance. I learn things that help me personally, as well. Things that will really help me as I get older. The support I get from VOYCE has been great.
Mary Lynn Donovan, the Director at VOYCE has been instrumental in raising the profile of VOYCE in the entire community. Being affiliated with VOYCE brings a lot of respect from management at the nursing homes. As for advice to anyone considering being an ombudsman, I’d say the knowledge you gain from all your experiences, from the training you receive to the interactions with residents; it really teaches you things that will apply to your personal life. The life stories you hear are fantastic. I’ve made great friendships over the 15 years I’ve been doing this. It has been quite an experience!
Thank you so much for sharing your story Roger!
WOULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT VOLUNTEERING AS AN OMBUDSMAN?
Formerly the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
680 Craig Road, Suite 245
St. Louis, MO. 63141