Walter Pruiksma is a big man who doesn’t hesitate to do what needs doing.
That becomes clear when he starts reminiscing about his service as a military policeman during World War II. Like when he headed off to military training and bulked up so much that his own sister didn’t recognize him when he returned home.
Or just days after D-Day, when a young French boy begged soldiers to take his injured mother to the hospital – 12 miles away through the war-torn Normandy countryside. Walter volunteered, a selfless act later recognized by French and U.S. officials with medals for dedication and service.
So Walter, who’s now 95 and lives in a retirement community in Brick, didn’t expect trouble when he decided two years ago that it was time to trash his old, enormous TV.
“But the garbage men wouldn’t take it, because of the electronics. I called the city. They said bring it to Lakewood – but that wasn’t possible,” said Walter, who uses a walker to get around. “I called the state. They wouldn’t do it either.”
So he called Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, where he connected with John McCrone, volunteer supervisor of the Fix-It program.
“It took John 10 seconds to say ‘no problem,’ and bing, bang, boom, the thing was gone,” Walter said.
Since then, Walter has reached back to Catholic Charities a few times for help with small chores, like trimming the bushes outside his home, that he found tough to do because of his mobility challenges.
The Fix-It program has served seniors in Ocean County for about 15 years.
“We do minor repairs for seniors so they can live independently and safely in their homes,” McCrone said.
Typically, that means volunteers do things like swapping out screen doors when the seasons change, climbing ladders for out-of-reach repairs, replacing batteries in smoke detectors, changing light bulbs, and installing grab bars in showers.
The program receives a small annual grant from the county, but it primarily is volunteer-driven. McCrone has 22 volunteers who put in about 1,300 hours last year completing 600 jobs for nearly 500 seniors. McCrone welcomes donations to support their work. He also welcomes more volunteers.
“There’s always more work than we can handle,” said McCrone, adding that volunteers must have their own tools and transportation.
The volunteers get as much out of the program as the seniors do, he said. McCrone especially likes helping veterans like Walter, who have given so much for their country. “It’s a treat to meet someone like Walter,” he said, as he listened to Walter tell war stories and narrate photos from his war-era scrapbooks.
“We spend time sitting at the table, getting to know them. It’s a friendly visit that really means a lot for both the volunteer and the senior.”
Walter agreed: “It’s an exceptional program. The men who have come have been gentle, kind, and willing. They’re all nice people.”
McCrone laughed, asking: “Who’s the nicest?”
Winking, Walter responded: “You’re the firstest!”