Volunteering turns into life's work for retiree

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ALTOONA, Pa. (AP) — Fred Buckreis' retirement in September gave him more time to help others.

Buckreis, who retired as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, said he saw an article in the newspaper indicating Blair Senior Services needed volunteers to help with its home-delivered meals program.

He called them up and soon was delivering meals three days a week to residents in the Broad Avenue and Wehnwood areas.

Buckreis has become an "incredible resource for the program," said Laura Ford, program coordinator.

"He is a very caring, energetic volunteer. He always shows up early. He is eager and quickly learned the system. He always asks the seniors how they are doing. He is a very concerned, conscientious volunteer," Ford said. "He will fill in if there are openings. He also helps the new volunteers learn the system, and he is fairly new himself."

Buckreis enjoys delivering meals to the elderly.

"Sometimes I may be the only person they see that day," Buckreis said.

Buckreis, 67, spends Tuesdays and Thursdays volunteering at Garvey Manor, where he often spends eight or nine hours a day.

"They are older people. They can tell you their life history, and you can learn stuff. I talked to a guy who was in the Korean War. We talk about old Altoona, the street car tracks, the old stores," Buckreis said. "Talking to the people, you can pick up a lot of things in life. There are a lot of interesting people in this area."

Garvey Manor residents enjoy having Buckreis around, said Debbie Dorazio, volunteer coordinator.

"He is a guy willing to give anything a try; he loves people and enjoys talking with people immensely and chatting with them. He loves volunteering, it is wonderful to have people like that who are willing to step up and help others," Dorazio said. "He really enjoys the residents and helps with activities. He will do anything you ask him to help with."

Buckreis, who grew up in the Dutch Hill area of Altoona, didn't plan to go into the medical field.

"I was going to be a priest; that didn't work out. I went to a minor seminary in Rochester, N.Y. Boys went there after eighth grade. It was all male, and there was no dating. I decided I wanted to do this before committing myself to a lifetime of celibacy," Buckreis said.

He then thought about becoming a teacher, but the Vietnam War was raging when he graduated from Bishop Guilfoyle High School in 1964, so he decided to enlist in the Air Force rather than taking a chance of being drafted.

When he joined the Air Force, he became an X-ray technician.

"I thought it was easier to take care of the people that were shot than be shot at," Buckreis said.

After leaving the Air Force in 1969, he went to work in respiratory therapy at Altoona Hospital, where he ran the pulmonary function laboratory. He then moved on to the Van Zandt VA Medical Center where he set up the pulmonary function lab and did respiratory therapy. Then he decided to go into nursing.

After he became a CRNA in 1981, he worked at several hospitals throughout the area before becoming an independent contractor.

"You travel and contract with hospitals who need your services," Buckreis said. "Working for yourself, you are your own boss."

He said his career as an anesthetist was satisfying.

"I had an opportunity to work with some famous people. Every patient, no matter if it was the president of the United States or a street person, every single person got the same amount of care and same vigilance," Buckreis said.

Buckreis also enjoys volunteer work on Fridays during Lent helping with the fish dinners at St. Mary's Catholic Church.

Several years ago, he helped coach youth sports teams at Wright Elementary School.

Volunteer work is important, Buckreis said.

"I just think you should give back. During your life, there have been people who do things for you, and this is an opportunity to give back," Buckreis said.

For fun, Buckreis likes to make beer and wine, and he sings in the St. Mary's and Mannerchor choirs. He also enjoys watching Pitt football. He has been a season ticket holder since 1987.

When not busy with volunteer work, Buckreis and his wife, Becky, love to travel. They have been to Italy and Germany and hope to visit Scotland and Ireland.

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Information from: Altoona Mirror, http://www.altoonamirror.com

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