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Volunteer couple is racking up the hours

Some couples tease each other over who makes the best dishes or whose sports team is better, but Sandra and Bob Budnick rib each other over whose volunteer job is more interesting, whose uniforms are snazzier and who works harder.
Sandra, 78, has been a Pima County Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteer since 2005, and Bob, 82, has been volunteering with the Green Valley Fire District since 2006, first as a member of the Citizens Emergency Response Team and now as a Fire Corps member. Over the years, Bob has volunteered more than 5,000 hours and Sandra just under 4,000.

“We knew we couldn’t just sit and do nothing,” Sandra said about their decision to volunteer. “You can only play cards and games for so long.”
The couple, who have been married 60 years, have two children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. They raised their kids in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where Bob worked for the Ford Motor Co. for 35 years and Sandra was a part-time bookkeeper.

When Bob retired in 1991 as a power engineer, they moved to Wisconsin and built a home. They escaped the brutal winters after seven years and went to Ruidoso, N.M., where they built another home. A series of wildland fires and a lack of volunteer opportunities prompted them to move to Green Valley in 2005. They had friends in Tucson and had visited Green Valley on a golfing trip. They quickly discovered Green Valley is “run on volunteerism.” In fact, they’ve both been so busy volunteering, they haven’t golfed in a couple of years, the couple said with a laugh.

“We didn’t move here originally because I didn’t think I could take the summers and you don’t need air conditioning in Ruidoso, but I got used to the heat quite quickly,” Sandra said.
She has always wanted to volunteer, but when she was younger the only volunteer job she could find was at her children’s schools as a room mother, Sandra said. When she arrived in Green Valley and found out about the SAV, she was excited. Her brother-in-law had been a sheriff in Wisconsin.

“There was a funny ad in the paper and it said something like, ‘Does your spouse go ballistic when you’re in uniform?’” she recalled.  After taking the requisite classes, Sandra said she started out greeting people at the front desk of the Green Valley District’s office. Ironically, her boss was Lt. LT Pratt, who is now Bob’s boss.  Pratt retired from the sheriff’s department in April 2016, and promptly went back to work as the community outreach coordinator for the Green Valley Fire District. As such, he oversees the Fire Corps.

Sandra has since spent thousands of hours patrolling malls, working as a bailiff at Green Valley Justice Court, and processing evidence sheets and other paperwork.  “I know a lot about what goes on in Green Valley I never knew before,” Sandra said.  The best part of the job is the people she works with — the volunteers and the deputies.   “It’s really nice knowing the deputies and I’ve met three sheriffs,” Sandra said. “They’re really a great bunch of people. I used to say we have everything but rocket scientists, but I think we’ve gotten a couple of those.”   Lots to talk about Sandra confesses that over the years she’s looked at other volunteer opportunities, though.  “I’ve looked at the (Green Valley/Sahuarita) Volunteer Clearinghouse, but I keep coming back to this, it’s more interesting,” she said.

While it’s not uncommon for couples to volunteer for the same organization, Bob and Sandra said they wanted something to talk about with each other at the end of the day. Bob chose the fire district initially because he was fascinated by the CERT concept. He moved over to the Fire Corps because of the different things they do — removing snakes, changing smoke alarm batteries and installing lock boxes among them. People are always amazed at the services provided by the GVFD, he said.  “The biggest surprise to them is that we even do smoke alarms and lock boxes, they’ve never heard of programs like ours,” Bob said. “The best part of my job is seeing how happy people are when we put stuff in.”

Bob loves the people he works with. He and fellow Fire Corps member Anne Birch are constantly leapfrogging each other as to who has the most volunteer hours.  Pratt recently bragged about the couple during a GVFD board meeting.  “Having worked with both Sandy at SAV and Bob here with Fire Corps, there’s no finer a couple or more dedicated volunteers,” Pratt said Tuesday. “They still give the hours each week with big smiles and a skip in their step.”

When the Budnicks aren’t volunteering, chances are they are playing cards with some of Sandra’s fellow SAV members or attending one of the many get-togethers thrown by their respective agencies.
While they’ve both threatened to retire, they honestly don’t know what they’d do with themselves.
Maybe, Bob said, their volunteerism has something to do with the fact they are both still so healthy.
“I have a funny feeling that may be what it is,” he said.

Article by Kim Smith | 547-9740