Volunteering senior gives back for a life well lived

Every Monday morning starting at 8:30 a.m., 77-year-old retiree Roy Ponte calls police headquarters to request Brae Centre Community Station’s doors be unlocked. Once he’s inside, fellow volunteers and a police officer soon join him. Ponte then begins his four-hour volunteer shift. First, Ponte will wipe down everything in the office and then attack the pile of reports.

“You do these reports and then you sort of wait for business,” chuckles Ponte.

Community police stations like Brae Centre often handle minor fender benders, stolen property and file police reports. Despite having no prior interest in police work, Ponte loves his “job” and has volunteered for 15 years.

“You meet a lot of people and you get to help a lot of people. People come in and they’re desperate,” says Ponte.

His Monday routine at the Braeside station will come to an end next month. The Calgary police are closing it down, along with the Riverbend/Ogden Community Station, to bring more officers back onto the beat. But that won’t stop this dedicated volunteer from finding a way to serve his city.

Closures bringing change to communities

In May, the Calgary police will be shutting the doors to both Braeside and Riverbend/Ogden community stations.

“In light of the current economic reality and the current operational reality that we’re in, we just couldn’t continue to operate community stations,” says Calgary police spokesman, Kevin Brookwell.

“It’s not going to be handed to you on a silver platter. If you don’t put anything into your life, you’re wasting it, you won’t get anything out.” – Roy Ponte

Brookwell says that officers had complained to the board saying there were too many 911 calls being made and too little officers to respond and still spend enough time with the civilians. After extensive analysis of efficiency within the service, 48 positions were identified that could be re-allocated to new areas. The officers working at Braeside and Riverbend/Ogden were included.

From Ponte’s point of view, he doesn’t think shutting down the volunteer-run stations is the best solution. He says much of the work that the volunteers will be left to the officers. Despite his disagreement with the closures, Ponte had nothing but praise for the Calgary Police Service.

“They provide a good service. They’re like you and me, except every morning when they get up, there’s a chance they might not be coming home for supper. So you got to give them credit for that.”

Once the Braeside station officially closes, Ponte says he’ll most likely look for another volunteer job. But he isn’t worried about the future.

“I did the police, I did the Calgary seniors, maybe there’s something else. Or there’s calling bingo numbers at a senior get together,” he says, bursting out laughing.

The impact of one man on the community

“I think he’s made an excellent impact on the community,” says Barbara Cooper, Ponte’s sister-in-law. “If he’s committed to every Monday 52 weeks of the year, he’s going to be there every Monday for 52 weeks of the year. I think having that consistent face within the community has been important to the people in the area.”

Ponte also volunteers Tuesday to Friday at the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society, driving seniors with no other means of transportation to medical appointments. Being a senior himself gives him a unique opportunity to bond easily with his patients.Roy Ponte’s volunteer jacket from the Brae Centre Police station. Photo Courtesy of Courtney Ingram

“I enjoy it…I always say that someday I’m going to need a ride and I hope that somebody will give me a ride,” he said.

Amy Xia, head of escorted transportation at the Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society believes that Ponte is a reliable and active volunteer.

“(The patients) are isolated and they don’t have a lot of family and so he creates a lot of support,” says Xia

Xia recalls one time a patient said that Ponte would notify her if there were any bumps coming up or if he would have to speed up or slow down suddenly. “He’s very attentive…going out of his way to warn them.”

The early days

Ponte grew up in Fort McMurray in the 1940s. At the time only about 800 people lived in the northern Alberta town.

“There was gravel roads and wooden sidewalks,” he recalled. “We never had electricity in our house until I was about 10 years old. Never had running water or indoor plumbing, but I never regretted growing up there.”

One man that made a large impact on Ponte’s life was his father. “Have I got a hero? My dad. He was a wonderful man actually.”Roy Ponte’s Wedding ring. Photo Courtesy of Courtney Ingram

On his high school graduation day, Ponte stood next to just three others. He had an interest in electronics and planned to move to Toronto for radio college.

“Electronics was always a mystery at that time. People think that TV comes out of a plug-in in the wall. So, I had never been outside of (Fort)McMurray, I’d never seen traffic lights, I’d never seen a television set. They didn’t have any of that stuff in there. So I said, what the heck. Why don’t I go to Toronto?”

For three years, Ponte roomed with three men. All four shared different nationalities: Italian, French, Dutch, and Ukrainian. “Greatest time of my life. Oh, yeah, greatest time,” says Ponte.

Once he was finished getting his degree in communications electronics, Ponte made his way back to Alberta for work. Briefly he worked in Edmonton for Perforating Guns and then came to Calgary for a job at Canadian Marconi, building communications towers and installing long-way radio systems in the arctic. He spent 10 years on the job. He found his next job at Motorola, where he stayed for 28 years.

He worked his way up to a manager position and retired in 2000.

Ponte has three children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He’s been remarried once. “Dianne. She’s the love of my life. We’ve been married for 35 years,” he says.

A restless retirement

Ponte retired at the age of 61, but could only do nothing for so long. “I probably sat around for about six months changing light bulbs and fiddling around with those. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna go crazy. I better do something.”

While getting his license plate renewed at the Braeside station, Ponte learned they needed volunteers. He filled out an application and by April of 2001, he was volunteering every Monday. He began volunteering at the Calgary Seniors Resource Society at the same time.

One day at Brae Centre, someone inside the building accidentally dialed 911 and then hung up the phone. Ponte then answered the next call and said, “Brae Centre police station, how may we help you?”

“Can you speak?” said the operator on the other line.

“Yes I can,” Ponte responded sarcastically.

Following protocol, the operator called the station again to be certain there was no danger. They stayed on the line until an officer from the street was dispatched to the station.

“So in the meantime, we’re open for business and there’s volunteers at the front desk taking reports and we’ve got our own officer who’s right there, but they had to get the one who had been dispatched,” says Ponte.

Rich Cuning, who worked with Ponte for 27 years at Motorola before they both retired in 2000, describes Ponte as an honourable, reputable, and honest individual who volunteers to “give back for the life he has enjoyed.”

Cuning had plenty of nice things to say about Ponte’s volunteer work, especially at the Calgary Seniors Resource Society. “He’s got ladies who insist he’s their chauffeur. He’s made a pretty big impact to that organization.”

Ponte has many interesting stories from his time volunteering at the Calgary Seniors Resource Society. He was transporting a woman in a wheelchair to the Foothills hospital one day to get her pacemaker checked. She was hooked up to an oxygen tank and while the doctor was doing tests, Ponte heard a “ding ding ding.” The doctor didn’t respond and so Ponte said, “I think that’s her oxygen tank getting low.”

According to Ponte, the doctor said, “How are you going to get her back? What if she runs out of oxygen?”

“You’re asking me? I’m just a driver,” Ponte said in surprise.

After going back and forth for a while, Ponte finally suggested that the doctor give him an oxygen tank there and then he’d have it sent back once the patient was returned home. “It was quite comical,” he says.

Ponte attributes his love for volunteering to his philosophy on life. “It’s not going to be handed to you on a silver platter. If you don’t put anything into your life, you’re wasting it, you won’t get anything out.”

Thumbnail by Courtney Ingram

cingram@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this story is Nick de Lima, ndelima@cjournal.ca