LAFAYETTE -- Bob Kelly's decision decades ago to give up his data-processing job to become a stay-at-home dad opened the door to a new career: dedicated volunteer.
The 58-year-old Martinez resident has volunteered at his kids' schools, driven for Meals on Wheels and annually rides a bike -- or this year, drive a rescue van -- for a Napa Valley cycling event to benefit the American Diabetes Association.
On Friday afternoons, he can be found in his latest philanthropic pursuit, driving the Lamorinda Spirit Van that delivers residents of several Contra Costa County communities to the Walnut Creek senior center's C.C. Cafe for meals, as well as to medical appointments and senior services events.
Kelly's involvement with the Spirit Van came by way of a similar role with Meals on Wheels, he explained at a Lafayette coffee shop. He would pick up meals for delivery at the Walnut Creek senior center.
"I saw a bus with 'Volunteers Wanted' on it. The bus had a number on it, so I called," he said. "I figured I had the time."
Kelly recently studied for and earned his Class B license so he can drive the group's larger van.
Bruns isn't the only
"When Mary called to tell me, I thought she was asking me to work the event," Kelly said, laughing. "Then I found out she had nominated me. I wasn't expecting to win because these people were doing things that far surpassed what I do. They've dedicated their lives to it."
Kelly resigned from his job at Bank of America to stay at home to raise his two boys after he and his wife decided day care was equal to "not good enough" care. He quickly found himself with no shortage of activities to keep him busy: volunteering for years at Fountainhead Montessori, Hidden Valley Elementary and Martinez Middle School; caring for his aging mother after his father died; and eventually delivering meals for the needy. He also helps as a handyman at the Martinez condominium complex where he lives.
"He got to know the clients," said Nancy Raniere, an outreach worker for Meals on Wheels. "He didn't just hand over meals. He wanted to know who he was serving and why he was there."
Raniere came to rely on Kelly for up-to-date information about the seniors, who also kept track of him. He once spent two hours helping a woman pick out a new microwave.
"If Bob wasn't driving or was running late, they'd call and ask if Bob was OK," Raniere said.
Confronted with his list of achievements, Kelly is dismissive.
"Most of the credit should go to my wife, Julie," he said. "She gave me the opportunity to stay home with the kids. I saw kids that didn't seem to have any parental involvement. I didn't want that life at all."
In 1988, as the only man in a "Baby and Me" class, Kelly was unsettled.
"I got over it, because I didn't think the moms were any better at doing what they were doing than I was," he said, laughing.
The years of volunteering have provided Kelly with fun stories, like the time he drove a 100-year-old Sicilian woman to a family reunion.
"The first thing she said to me was, 'I didn't kill anybody,' because she was originally from Italy. I figured maybe it was a 'Godfather' thing, so I just said, 'Good. Let's keep it that way.'
"When I picked her up three hours later, she said, 'The party's just getting started and now they're kicking me out!'"
Kelly also admires a 90-year-old woman on his Meals on Wheels route.
"She used to be a dancer. She'd be dressed to the nines, every day. She'd have her lunch and then get on the bus and go somewhere. I liked that kind of energy and lust for life."
As one would expect, the hardest part of helping seniors is when he loses them.
"They get sick or they die, and I never see them again. It's sad and eerie because they're so suddenly gone," he said.
With his new Class B license, Kelly has added duties: training new Lamorinda Spirit drivers and servicing the 15-seat passenger van.
"I just try to do my job the best I can," he said. "If I commit to it, I got to do it."
CLAIM TO FAME: Longtime volunteer for groups such as Meals on Wheels and Lamorinda Spirit Van
QUOTE: "I just try to do my job the best I can. If I commit to it, I got to do it."
Hometown Heroes, a partnership between Bay Area News Group-East Bay and Comcast, celebrates people in the Bay Area who make a difference in their communities. Read about a new Hometown Hero every other Tuesday and watch the program on Comcast On Demand at Channel One-Get Local-Hometown Heroes. Do you know a Hometown Hero? Let us know about the work they do at HometownHeroes@bayareanewsgroup.com.