Technically my relationship with Bob would be described as that of co-worker at Bridge Disability Ministries. But I actually thought of him as more of a comrade. You see, we were both involved in this conspiracy to change the world and make it a better place for people living with disabilities. I may not know everything there is to know about Bob, but I can tell you he worked tirelessly in service to people with mobility and other needs the entire time I knew him, and from reports I've gathered, many years before that. At Bridge he served on the board 1999-2001, and later assumed the role of Manager of our Mobility Ministry in 2007. He's been immersed in all things Mobility ever since.
Right up through April of this year Bob continued to log volunteer hours, even as his health steadily deteriorated. When I received the monthly Volunteer Hours report from Mobility and saw that Bob had logged 10 volunteer hours in April, I could hardly believe it. I knew how rough things were for him by that point, having seen his difficulty drawing breath for myself. When he began to require an oxygen pump to help him breathe, he just kept on going - carrying the device around in a bag slung over his shoulder. I remember seeing him huff and puff up the hill from Mobility to the main office often, and shaking my head in disbelief. And even when the time came that he could no longer come into the Mobility shop to work, I know he continued to call and email in information and work on the computer remotely until just a few weeks ago. He did everything he could to help smooth the transition for Gerry Barney as he assumed the lead position in Mobility. Bob's dedication to the Mobility Ministry was faithful indeed.
The really amazing thing I noticed about Bob right away when I met him was his energy. Bob had so much energy, he seemed unstoppable at times - especially remarkable in light of his lung disease. I've joked more than once that he reminded me of the Energizer Bunny...he kept going and going and going. He grew up an Iowa farm boy, and I always felt a connection to him because my parents were both raised on Iowa farms, as were most of my extended family. Since I had always lived in the Pacific Northwest, I never got a chance to know my extended family well. So working with Bob was kind of like having an opportunity to be around one of my uncles from Iowa; his work ethic, mannerisms and sense of humor being very familiar to me.
Bob's journey brought him to the leadership position at Mobility after his retirement from the bakery business. Characteristically, his first step in retirement was to create a consulting company in order to get involved with non-profits. Yeah, I know. You're probably wondering, why didn't he just go play golf? Actually, I happen to know he enjoyed golf a lot too! But that was Bob. Not one to sit around idle, it wasn't long before he was hired to coordinate the move to our new location in 2007, and soon afterward he was hired as Mobility Manager. Thank heavens Bridge didn't let him get away!
Bob had a vision for the Mobility Ministry developed from his experience as a board member as well as his knowledge and experience in the fields of business management and plant production. With that knowledge and experience, he was able to take the bare, empty space provided in the business park where we are now located and turn it into the neat, organized and smoothly running operation it is today. He established realistic parameters for the type of equipment we could provide and a production system to make it all happen. He also expanded the volunteer workforce in Mobility to take advantage of the increased space in our new shop.
Once again, the numbers tell the story. In the period of time since Bob assumed control of Mobility we have seen approximately a 20% growth per year, with an over 70% increase in the number of pieces of equipment processed through Mobility annually - a total of 2582 in 2010. We've gone from processing about $400,000 in retail value through the doors of our humble little Mobility Center annually to over $1 million, with about 40% being distributed to international organizations. Think about it - that's 2582 needs of people living with disabilities being met. 2582 people who couldn't walk getting around on wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and scooters as well as receiving other medical equipment and goods they need, not only locally but around the world.
Probably the best thing about Bob though, was that he really, really, really cared about people. He not only served folks with physical disabilities, but also participated in Spiritual Care events geared for folks with intellectual disabilities and involved them in the work of the Mobility Ministry whenever possible. When I saw him interacting with folks living with intellectual disabilities, his caring and compassion for them shined through. As the mother of an autistic child myself, it would be difficult to fake that with me. After 14 years raising an autistic kid, I have acquired those mom antennae that help discern genuine caring from political correctness or politeness. I can testify: Bob was the real deal.
One day the knee suddenly went right out from under me when I was going down a set of stairs so I went to visit Bob. Within a few minutes he had found a pair of crutches that fit me, adjusted them for my individual needs and sent me on my way with a smile. I was broke at the time, as I often am being the single parent of an autistic child, but that wasn't even an issue. When you were down, and needed help getting around, Bob was the man to see. One day I hope to be in a position to make a generous donation to the Mobility Ministry in memory of Bob for being there when I needed him.
Now, if you didn't know Bob well and you've started wondering if this is a whitewash, let me tell you something else: Bob was not perfect. Furthermore, I'm sure he'd have been the first to admit he's no candidate for sainthood. He had his "curmudgeon moments", as people with vision, drive and determination generally do. And we didn't always agree on everything either. But that's okay. I figure, if Jesus didn't require him to be perfect to be loved, then why should I? And actually, I think his human imperfections made him all the more lovable. Hmmm...maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere. Anyway, bottom line - I have the greatest respect both for Bob and his work in the Mobility Ministry. And if I were asked to sum Bob up, I'd say he was, and is, and will continue to be, an inspiration.
Well, that's my tribute to Bob. I'm sure others will be written by those who knew him longer and better than I did, but for what it's worth - I'm sure going to miss him. I'll remember the twinkle in his eye, his wry smile, his dry wit and his jovial laugh. I'll remember his energy, his initiative and his caring personalty. Most of all, I'll remember his steadfast faith.