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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Keep your praise to yourself, please
Super volunteer? Pshaw. Bob Ladewig won't hear of it. (You'd better look away now, Bob.)
By HELEN ANNE TRAVIS, Times Staff Writer
Published December 9, 2007
Bob Ladewig helps Irene Plum to the van he will drive to the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind in Port Richey on Thursday. "We've had a lot of drivers, but he's the best," Plum says.
[Mike Pease | Times]
[Mike Pease | Times]
Bob Ladewig's upbeat nature helps clients at the center in Port Richey.
PORT RICHEY - If you want to make friends with Bob Ladewig, don't compliment him. Instead, make a joke about his balding head or short shorts. That will get him to open up more than dishing out the praise.
Ladewig, 81, volunteers with the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind. In the past 10 years, he's logged more than five times the hours of the average helper. Some of the staff call him a "super volunteer."
"I don't believe in that baloney - being super. No way," Ladewig said.
But the staff disagrees. Ladewig steps in when other drivers are sick. He's in the parking lot a half-hour before the center opens, ready to help. His Ford with the two American flags flying from the roof stands out.
But there's something else about Ladewig.
The Lighthouse is a nonprofit organization that provides free services to the visually impaired. Many of the clients Ladewig drives are older women recently diagnosed with macular degeneration. Some of these women have been able to see all of their lives, and the sudden vision loss leaves many disheartened.
"When we get them they're usually depressed. I don't know what we'd do without Bob," said Connie Jackson-Charlot, executive director.
Ladewig keeps everybody laughing. He tells jokes, makes fun of himself and asks questions.
"He's interested in you personally. It boosts you up," said Anne Siemann, 88, who was diagnosed with macular degeneration two years ago.
The boosts help.
"You can always tell someone who will succeed with their vision loss because of their attitude," said Jeff Parker.
Parker is the president of the Lighthouse board of directors.
"And I'm also a client," he said.
Parker is visually impaired. Ladewig picks him up to go to dinner or to bring him home from the center. The two men have become friends.
Parker, 54, considers Ladewig a father figure. Ladewig hears that and says he feels sorry for him.
There's no particular reason Ladewig volunteers with the Lighthouse, no blind mother or aunt in his history. His wife, Marilyn, was recently diagnosed with macular degeneration and she also spends a lot of time at the Lighthouse for classes and social support.
Marilyn, 77, learned in their 60 years of marriage that if he's home late, it's probably because he's helping someone paint a wall or change a lightbulb.
Over the course of their marriage he's volunteered with the Red Cross and acted as a volunteer firefighter.
Serving food for the Red Cross, he's made people smile after fires and hurricanes. Jokes about eating roadkill are a fail-safe.
"It's just my nature. I love to help people," he said.
Some Lighthouse volunteers complain about the distances they have to drive, the staff says. Ladewig's only aversion is driving on U.S. 19. He knows all the back roads.
"We've had a lot of drivers, but he's the best," said Irene Plum, 87, who was diagnosed with macular degeneration three years ago.