More than 40 years ago, Meals on Wheels had a modest launch — a meal-delivery service for eight homebound Richmonders. The nonprofit now delivers more than 1,000 meals per day to 900 disabled, elderly and homebound residents. "One study we saw said that our elders fear going into a nursing home more than they fear death," says Richard Schultz, executive vice president of MOW. "We enable people to stay independent and in their own homes." More than 2,500 volunteers travel 82 routes, delivering freshly made meals, offering a helping hand and even bringing food for their pets. Here, we share the life stories of volunteers and clients on two of the 82 routes.
Volunteer Russ Wilson
Wilson does double duty on the South Side
Wilson's route throughout the Forest Hill area includes a number of apartment complexes. He cheerfully greets recipients with his quick smile, hands them their meals and enters to visit when asked. "For some people, it's a godsend," Wilson says of Meals on Wheels.
At one stop, he assists a bedridden patient and gives him a cold drink. At the doors of female recipients, Wilson pulls off his Greek sailor hat, edged with black brocade. "I need to take off my hat for the ladies," he says.
Before moving to Richmond in 1973, Wilson served 31 years in the Navy. "I enlisted in the Navy in December of 1942, about a year after Pearl Harbor," Wilson says. "I was 17 years old." At the time, Wilson says, he was attending Ohio State University, playing trumpet in the band, when a recruiter visited campus and promised him an opportunity to participate in a Navy band and go to the naval school of music after completing boot camp. When Wilson finished camp, he was informed that the school of music had closed. At first disappointed, Wilson stayed motivated and received an appointment to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. His class of 1949 was "the first four-year class after [World War II] was finished," he says.
Music is still a passion in Wilson's life. He plays taps on his trumpet for veterans' funerals, sometimes several times per week.
Wilson and his wife, Halma, will celebrate their 60th anniversary in April. They raised a son and two daughters while he served in the Navy abroad. Now, they have six grandchildren.
On His Route:
Doris Lightfoot, a client since 2005
Doris Lightfoot, 72, says her lifelong dream was to care for those whom others did not want to take in — the very sick and the elderly, people just like her now. "I am in a wheelchair; I cannot walk," she says, adding that she needs the wheelchair after surviving a stroke and two bouts with cancer.
Lightfoot, who has received Meals on Wheels for four years, was born in Church Hill. She developed her passion for providing care of the elderly during her junior year at Maggie L. Walker High School, when her mother was ill with Parkinson's disease. "I wanted to go to nursing school to be an RN. [Instead], I opened my own nursing home."
Lightfoot began her career as a maid at nursing homes across Richmond and worked her way up, learning the ropes of nursing care. This training enabled her to open Lightfoot's Home for the Aged at her home near Bryan Park. Lightfoot cared for three patients at a time, people who suffered from conditions such as Alzheimer's. "I had some of the sickest people there could be," she says. "We lived as a family. Nobody wanted them, but I wanted them and took care of them."
Though Lightfoot has experienced the loss of her parents and two husbands, she found solace in her work. "That is where I found my love, my happiness and my joy — in caring for those people."
Lightfoot is still interested in the medical field and often watches TV shows featuring operations and other health topics. She says she is grateful for her meal service through Meals on Wheels and has been "treated wonderfully." Her meals are enjoyed with her favorite beverage: coffee. "I adore coffee," she says.
Lightfoot also enjoys visits from her son, who lives in Richmond, as well as her two grandchildren. She adds that she keeps up her lifelong friendships by phone.
On His Route:
Hazel Glover, a client since 2002
Hazel Glover, who raised eight children, also spent almost 35 years cooking at the same Richmond restaurant.
Glover's childhood was difficult; her mother died in childbirth when Glover was 9, and her father passed away when she was 14. "It was not easy," she says. School was a bright spot in her life — she loved learning, her teachers and even the homework.
Glover, who bypassed college for child rearing, began working at Glenn's Restaurant, now Glenn's Friends Restaurant and Tavern, after her last son started school in 1963. Her children say her best dishes are her crab cakes and beef stew.
Glover, 84 and a self-described loner, says she enjoys the quiet of her apartment in South Richmond. Today, she begins her days with a wake-up call from her daughter, Kathy, and she relishes visits from her more than 20 grandchildren.
Glover also enjoys her walks to Swansboro Baptist Church on Sundays.
But nothing makes her more animated than when she speaks of her husband, Lloyd, and their years together before he died in an automobile accident in 1977. They had been married for 30 years. "He could always find something to say to make me smile and laugh," she says. They met on the bus, the one she took to high school and Lloyd took to work. "He would save me a seat next to him," she says.
On His Route:
Melvin Tinsley, a client since 2005
Melvin Tinsley, an 81-year-old Richmond native, says his upbringing made three things run strong through his veins: music, football and a love for his hometown.
"I do not know a better place than Richmond," he says. Tinsley, who has curly dark hair peppered with white, says his older brothers inspired him to experience sports and music. His brother Sidney played football and the oldest, George, loved music and dancing. "Music runs in my family," Tinsley says.
During his sophomore and junior years at Maggie Walker High School, he donned a green-and-white football uniform and was a guard. He remembers the game years with a smile — even the losses to Armstrong High School. "The best team wins," he says with a laugh.
But it's music that has always been a foundation in Tinsley's life. "I put music first," he says, adding that he has been singing bass since age 16. Music also helped him adjust to life again after serving 21 months in combat in Korea.
"I was on the front lines for six months," he says. "I saw people being blown up. … When you are in combat, you see a little bit of everything."
Tinsley was released from his position as a combat soldier because of an eye condition and served the rest of his term as a quartermaster in a combat zone.
When he returned to Richmond, Tinsley spent time recovering at McGuire Veterans Hospital. He found his way back to First Baptist Church of South Richmond and to singing and friendship with his classmates. He sang for years in the First Baptist Male Chorus. Tinsley says he still loves the melodies of spiritual songs, particularly his favorite, "If I Could Only Believe."
Tinsley stopped singing about nine years ago, but music is still part of his life. When he can, he goes to First Baptist services. When he cannot, he catches spiritual songs during Cedar Street Baptist Church of God's televised Sunday morning services. Though he lives alone, a group of his classmates and football teammates have regular get-togethers. And still a football fan, Tinsley flips on the TV to catch Redskins games.
Volunteers Clyde and Brenda Bartges
Midlothian couple ventured outside of their comfort zone
When Clyde and Brenda Bartges married 16 years ago, they were perhaps thought of as an odd pairing. Clyde was 76 when he noticed Brenda, then 42, at a small church meeting in Powhatan. Brenda was filling in for the regular organist, and Clyde was speaking as a substitute minister.
"My family had given up on me [being married]," Brenda says with a robust laugh. "It was really a God moment," Clyde says. They were married just five months later.
Seven years ago, Brenda retired from a decade in the insurance business, and the couple wanted to find a way to minister together. "We wanted to do something together as a couple," she says, "because I was not part of his ministry." Clyde was a full-time minister until he retired in 1982.
They discovered Meals on Wheels. "We live in an environment that is very busy," Brenda says, her warm voice filling the room as she pushes a bang off her face. "I think we all have the opportunity to carve out niches of time in order to serve other people. You will find that the reward exceeds [the investment]. ... We all can do something."
Two Thursdays a month, Clyde, 92, and Brenda, 59, leave their Midlothian home, pick up meals and deliver them in the Broad Rock area, near McGuire hospital. Brenda adds that it is good "to be put into an area we were not exposed to … out of our comfort zone."
They visit about 13 homes and apartments, and many residents are widows or widowers. Clyde adds that when possible, they take time to heat up the food and visit a bit, too. "We get into conversations with them," he says warmly. "You are really a part of their lives."
The duo's life in Midlothian is full. The couple faithfully attends the ecumenical Brandermill Church, which Clyde founded. Brenda is a part-time buyer for the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden shop and takes piano lessons.
They both love art, and their home is speckled with Clyde's marble and stone sculptures. While Clyde adds that he also is a firm believer in playing golf, the couple says their passion is community service.
On Their Route:
Ray and Ava Keyes, clients since August
Ray and Ava Keyes have supported each other for about 45 years, raising Ava's four children together in South Richmond. Ray, 11 years Ava's junior, has been her primary caregiver as her health has declined. Ava, 80, who uses a wheelchair or walker, had colon tumor surgery that included a colostomy.
The couple was getting along well until Ray had open-heart surgery in June. In late summer, they realized they needed a bit of assistance and began to receive daily deliveries from Meals on Wheels.
But the couple well remember their courtship in Richmond. Ray says he first noticed Ava when she waited on him at a Richmond diner. "I made my boss go to lunch there," he says, adding that he was employed inspecting telephone poles at the time. "I gave her a $2 tip, and not $1." He laughs.
Ava adds that she fell in love with Ray because he "treated me right." She adds that some of her best memories are of their weekend dates going dancing together at a place off Jefferson Davis Highway that has since closed. "I love dancing," she says. "We would go dancing all the time."
Ava was born in Goochland County and raised in Richmond's Oregon Hill neighborhood. She lost her father at age 5 and recounts her friendship with him. "I missed him so bad. He was so good to me," she says. Ray also lost his father at a young age, when he was 10, but he grew up in the Shenandoah Valley. "I call Waynesboro my home," he says.
Ava lost her first husband to a heart attack after having four children together, three daughters and a son. Ray quickly became part of her family. He took the children to Corner Spring Park and taught them a skill he knew well: tree climbing.
Ray established Richmond Tree Service with a friend as a side business, after learning the ropes of tree removal from his brother-in-law. Yet, Ray was aware of the dangers of this pastime — he once took a 75-foot spill while climbing in Florida, breaking his collarbones.
While the Keyeses no longer go out dancing, they are both passionate about country music. Ray plays Hank Williams and Randy Travis tunes on his guitar, while Ava is an Alan Jackson fan. She even has a framed photo of Jackson on her dresser.
Ava, who is a devoted two-cup-a-day coffee drinker, also loves soap operas and watches the stories unfold with Kitty, her cat of 21 years. The Keyeses have two cats and three kittens, all of which are also fed by Meals on Wheels.
Simple pleasures for the two of them include sitting out on their front porch in good weather, and when its cold, Ray chops the wood to fill the stove that heats their home.
On Their Route:
Iona Horton, a client since 2008
Iona Horton, 91, has lived on the same quiet street in South Richmond for more than 60 years. Though she's been alone since the death of her husband, Fred, in 1989, Horton fondly remembers the days when the house was bustling with their six children and the family took trips to soak in Richmond's history.
"We went so many places," Horton says. "To the Edgar Allan Poe shrine and … to the [church] where Patrick Henry made his ‘Give me liberty or give me death' speech." Horton adds that her husband was a lover of history. "We used to go through the tobacco factories, and they [would] always give you a pack of cigarettes. That was really interesting."
When not caring for her children, Horton made time to work as a seamstress at Freeman Manmarks Clothing Co. She labored for 20 years, fitting sleeves and collars into suit coats by hand. Horton energetically notes that from her years of experience, she can tell when sleeves are improperly stitched, even on TV celebrities who have "wrinkles up to the sleeve." She adds, "Ours were not like that!"
But Horton grew up far from city life, on a 200-acre farm in the far Southwest Virginia town of Clinchport, where the Tennessee line was just a street away.
"I would go to Tennessee and play with my cousin — and we were just a fence apart," she says with a chuckle.
Raised by her grandmother, Horton remembers donning her bonnet for hard days in the field, hoeing endless rows of corn. "Lord! That was the hardest work," she says. She met Fred Horton and "fell in love with him, like people do." They were married when she was just 16. In 1944, the Hortons moved to Richmond for Fred's job with DuPont.
Fred and Iona had six children, and she has outlived all but two of them. "My health is better than theirs," she says in confused surprise. She lost one son in a tragic accident in the James River when he was 10. Her eyes tear up. "My belief in God got me through. I expect to see them one day."
Horton, who has to maneuver with a walker, begins her days with exercises to keep her legs nimble, followed by breakfast, laundry and her afternoon nap.
She adds that one of the most wonderful things she has is fellowship from Meals on Wheels. When the volunteers drop by, they sit on the porch swing and "talk a few minutes every day," she says. Her granddaughter, who lives in Richmond, brings her cakes and pies that she enjoys after dinner with some television.
"I have a big appetite," she says. "I eat like a horse."