Bob Stumpf, ZCP Volunteer since 2016
Bob Stumpf is prepared to go the distance whether it’s in a relationship with others or on a run. He’s completed 28 marathons and these days, Bob often comes in first or second in his age group. (Don’t tell anyone that at 74 years of age, Bob generally competes against only one or two others in his age category).
As a volunteer with Zen Caregiving Project (ZCP) for nearly six years, Bob sits with residents at Laguna Honda Hospital every Friday afternoon. One particular resident continues to enrich Bob’s life even though this person has since died.
“There was a resident at Laguna Honda that I visited weekly,” Bob explained. “I would save him for last because I knew it would be an uplifting experience for me at the end of my day.”
Bob explained that he loves sports and thought he knew everything there was to know until he met S, that is. “S. knew everything there was to know about sports, everything. He and I also bet on sporting events, usually hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time, with play money. I think he still owes me some money,” Bob said with a grin.
“Sports were a common bond from the beginning, and S. had also visited my hometown in Southern Indiana, so he understood where I came from,” Bob said. “It wasn’t just me taking care of him; it was S. taking care of me.”
That’s one aspect that surprised Bob about being a volunteer – how much he would get back from it.
“Not only have I gotten close to the residents I sit with, but I’ve developed close, personal relationships with other volunteers. During our shift change meetings, I find myself getting to know other volunteers who are very different from me, and yet we are kindred spirits,” Bob said.
“I didn’t expect that whatever calls people to do this work would give me the opportunity to meet so many other like-minded folks. We’re a real community.”
As a left-brained attorney for more than 40 years, Bob surprised himself by recognizing that he can also be a right-brained kind of person. When he turned 65 years old, he wanted to scale back his work and increase his volunteerism. While he had been on a number of charitable boards over the years, he found himself drawn toward volunteer work that would give him a one-to-one connection.
“I’ve always been interested in the concept of death; not in any kind of morbid way, but in the sense that we are born, we live, and then we die.”
Bob is also interested in music; specifically, he has a penchant for collecting jukeboxes. He once had 22 jukeboxes in his office that are now at home with so many others that he doesn’t divulge the total number. There’s one behind him as we talk, lit up and ready for any song to be played.
“They all work,” he explained. After he purchases them, he sends them to someone who restores and fixes them for him and then delivers them wrapped up in such a way that Bob feels like it’s Christmas morning every time one arrives.
He feels that same joy when he leaves his shift at Laguna Honda.
“I get so much more out of volunteering than I put into it,” Bob said. “When 6 p.m rolls around on Friday, I’m always at my happiest as I’ve been all week. During my shift, I’m able to get out of my own head. It’s a cleansing and nourishing experience.”
“I’m more sensitive now to the importance of having relationships with people who are really not like me at all,” Bob said.
One such resident that Bob has met could not be more different. Bob has had many advantages as a white man who attended Harvard, whereas E. had a very different life as a black man in America who for many years lived on the streets. Bob and E. have met weekly since December 2016, and they have forged a strong relationship.
“He’s important to me,” Bob explained. “ We aren’t family; we aren’t best friends, but we get together weekly, and he’s my friend. When I leave, he usually says, ‘Be safe out there.”
Bob looks off into the distance and returns to thoughts of his friend, S. who died last year.
“I saw him for almost two years,” he said, “and every time I walk by his room at Laguna Honda Hospital, I think of S. I miss him.”
Bob hasn’t just run 28 marathons. He’s running a marathon with residents at Laguna Honda, and rest assured, he’ll go the distance with them not to win any kind of medal, but to just be present on their journey. “People can have almost nothing left, and they are still living their lives,” Bob said. Yet they still have Bob, holding their hand and offering his presence. And often, at no extra charge, he offers them a few jokes.
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