Patch is all about serving communities, so much so that the company pays its employees for time spent volunteering at local charitable organizations five times per year. Patch also gives 5 percent of its ad inventory to charities. It's all part of what Patch is calling its Give 5 effort.
Patch's first Give 5 day of 2011, and the first since the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch was launched, was yesterday, Feb. 17.
As the B-W Patch editor, I had the pleasure of choosing an organization to volunteer at on Feb. 17. After , I chose the – maybe not a charity but a non-profit organization nonetheless that could certainly use some extra hands.
I arrived at the complex at 9 a.m. and reported to the where I was asked to carry a box down to storage.
After doing so, the police turned me over to a man named Ray Benson, an 82-year-old maintenance worker, for a couple of hours.
Of course, I thought, "Eighty-two? Yeah, he could use the help."
Little did I know that I would be the one trying to keep up with Benson.
The man certainly doesn't look, or especially act, like he's 82. For one, he has way more hair than I do. And what hair! Benson looks like he could still play one of John Travolta's friends in Grease.
As I got to know Benson, I realized that he's one of those guys that you'd be lucky to have as your father or grandfather, or even your friend. A U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Korean War – he has the hearing aid to prove it, he said – Benson has been an excellent handyman his whole life, so much so that he's probably still more useful than guys one-third his age (cough, ehm-ehm).
Perhaps Benson knew that I wasn't the swiftest with tools. (Hey, come on; I can text!) After we looked at a broken mirror in the police weight room, Benson opted instead to put me on duty rearranging chairs and tables in the complex's auditorium. Maybe he thought that I was stronger than I was smart. (Mrs. B-W Patch might agree.)
It was a decent amount of work. The room had still been laid out with chairs for a borough council meeting two days prior, but it needed switched around to accommodate senior groups that would be coming in soon to play cards and to socialize.
Benson told me how he wanted the room to look and then let me be for a while.
I put away all of the chairs on the floor except for four per table, of which he wanted 16 of – eight to a side. I did the math on the fly and left some chairs out as I went along setting up tables.
Benson went to work on something else, and when he came back, we moved the last few big end tables away together from the borough-meeting set-up to clear some more space for the seniors.
I wouldn't say that I was shocked, but I was impressed with how well Benson moved for an 82 year old. The reporter in me couldn't help but ask questions.
I asked Benson about his work and life history, and he was more than happy to oblige. He said that, prior to coming to work for the Borough of Baldwin, he worked in a similar maintenance/custodial fashion for on East Willock Road for many years. He left shortly after that church's former pastor moved away and joined Baldwin not much later.
Like many others, the Baldwin municipal folks are lucky to have Benson around. He's one of those rare birds who can combine many years of life experience and knowledge with the ability to still apply it.
"I work out all of time," Benson said, pointing out that when he recently left his longtime Baldwin Borough home to move to Green Tree Borough, he picked out a place that had steep steps leading from it so that he could run up them occasionally.
Now a widower, Benson liked to talk about his heyday selling high-end appliances and other goods at Kaufmann's, pointing out that he supported his family on commission earned working long weeks for the now-defunct department-store chain.
Benson was certainly a good salesman, and he still has that gift of gab. He and I talked for a good while longer, and he mentioned that he has no plans of retiring.
"What would I do?" he asked.
I asked him how much longer he would keep working, to which he responded, "Until they put me in a box."
After we finished setting up the auditorium, I asked the police station if there was anything else that I could do. Hearing nothing, I packed up and left. It was a good two-hours-plus. Though, like all of us, I wished that I could have done more.
For now, I'll cross the Baldwin Borough building off of my list. Heck, I don't think Ray needs my help! He was certainly glad to have it, though, and thanked me several times.
"Otherwise, I would have had to do this myself," he said, pointing to the completed auditorium.
Benson and I talked a little longer just before I left, and he told me more of what he's involved in nowadays and what he used to be involved in. He admitted that his kids used to think that he was Superman when he would make long road trips from Maine to Florida not that long ago.
Was Superman? That guy still is.