88-year-old Volunteer Keeps Wheels Turning

Richard Struckmeier, 88, poses with the bicycle he rides 6 miles roundtrip weekdays from his home in St. Petersburg to the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center to volunteer in the meals program.

Richard Struckmeier, 88, poses with the bicycle he rides 6 miles roundtrip weekdays from his home in St. Petersburg to the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center to volunteer in the meals program.

Every weekday for almost three decades, Richard Struckmeier, 88, of St. Petersburg, has pedaled his bicycle six miles roundtrip to the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center to volunteer in the meals program. And he has no plans to quit.

“Rain, sleet and snow, he’s here,” Maureen Vennerbeck, who coordinates the Senior Center dining program, said recently. “And he’s always smiling, always has a great attitude.”

Struckmeier, who has developmental disabilities, wipes down and sets the tables for the center’s midday meal, which serves dozens of people daily. He also cleans the coolers used to carry the 100 or so meals delivered weekdays via the Meals on Wheels program. He rolls the meal-packed coolers out to the delivery drivers on a cart, and then collects, cleans and puts them away again upon the drivers’ return.

“He’s one of the nicest, most cooperative people you’d want to meet,” says Senior Center Coordinator Joe Sutsko.

Struckmeier is a slender man who turns his head slightly upwards as he walks and shows gaps in his teeth when he smiles. He lives alone in a little house his parents left to him and his only sibling, George, who died many years ago. His only relatives live in Chicago.

Struckmeier smiles as he looks through some of the greeting cards he has made over the years for Rachel Cataldo, supervisor of the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center.

Struckmeier smiles as he looks through some of the greeting cards he has made over the years for Rachel Cataldo, supervisor of the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center.

He prepares oatmeal for breakfast, does his laundry at the nearby coin wash, maintains his house and yard, and even cuts his own hair. Neighbors help him by keeping his hearing aids operational, driving him to the local food pantry, and picking him up at the center with his bike if it’s raining, he says.

Struckmeier said he held various jobs over the years for “small pay, very small.” He assembled transformers at a factory in Chicago, fixed roller skates at a now-closed skating rink in St. Petersburg and mowed lawns, he said.

Asked why he started volunteering at the Senior Center after his last paying job ended 29 years ago, he says: “Because I was hungry. I came here to eat.”

At home he spends much of his free time making greeting cards for his friends. The cards, made with stickers and images he cuts of out newspapers, are given out at every festive occasion – Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween.

He also enjoys playing bingo Friday afternoons at the senior center. “I play bingo because sometimes they give food away,” he said. “Last week I won a big can of spaghetti!”

And he loves what he calls “swinging” dancing. Sometimes he’ll get to dance with the cashier at the Gulfport Casino, where he also volunteers, if things are slow.

Although Struckmeier says that over the years he’s seen many people come and go – friends, family members, workmates, supervisors – he doesn’t retire because he’s still healthy.

“All that chasing around I do, I don’t feel like I’m 88,” he said. “The main thing is that I’ve got good health.” He said his doctor tells him: “Keep riding the bicycle.”

 

 

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