PROFILE: Retirees: Giving hearts

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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For Bernice Griffith, Gloria Hudson and Calvin Gunn, giving back to their communities has become a way of life. Each of these retirees are different, yet they have all found ways to leverage their strengths to serve those around them.

A helpful neighbor

Life as a retiree has its perks. For 69-year-old Bernice Griffith, that means she’s often sitting at a table at the Calera Senior Center by 10 a.m. putting together a puzzle or playing a word game. As she took a break from her puzzle to sit down for an interview one afternoon in November, everyone stopped to speak to her as they entered or exited the building. It’s easy to see that she’s the life of any party. Dressed in an embellished denim outfit and wearing intricate rings and jewelry, some of which she made herself, Griffith struggled to understand why anyone would be interested in talking to her about her life.

You see, she doesn’t view her actions to help others as anything extraordinary. Since retiring as an insurance clerk at USAA in 2003, she has focused on doing things that make her happy and helping others. This way of living was instilled in her at a young age by her now 90-year-old mother who is still an avid volunteer. “She’s still up and running and thriving,” Griffith says.

As a little girl, Griffith can recall wrapping some of her own Christmas gifts with her mother and giving them to two neighborhood children who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten Christmas presents that year.

“Helping people is something we’ve always done,” says Griffith. “I don’t even think about it, really. When people say they need help, I just do it.” And these days Griffith has been doing a lot. Whether it’s making jewelry and replacing watch batteries for area seniors or just spending the day with someone so that they’re not lonely, she is the person people call for needs big and small. She transports her friends to and from doctor appointments and the grocery store, and picks up her grandkids and other people’s children after school and babysits them until their parents get off work. Through her church, New Mt. Moriah, the deaconess helps prepare 1,200 food bags to be distributed to families in need throughout the county.

Griffith expresses her creative side by crocheting, knitting and making special occasion cards. Her quilts are often donated to area hospitals as gifts for newborn babies. She also enjoys making cards for others for their anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers, graduations and weddings. “I do it for me, they just get lucky enough to benefit,” she says with a chuckle. “But honestly, most of these people are my friends, or over time they become my friends, so I just do what I can out of kindness.”

The dancing queen and king

At 10 a.m., Gloria Hudson’s day is usually just getting started. On days when it’s not too cold, she likes to sit in a patio chair and spend some time in her relaxing backyard that overlooks Buck Creek. The space is great for kicking up her feet and unwinding after a night spent dancing.

Hudson’s quiet mornings are balanced by her lively nights with her husband, Dick Paxton. At 97 and 93 respectively, Hudson and Paxton spend every Monday night at senior dances held in Vestavia Hills, and for the past 13 years, she has volunteered her time to organize dances at the Pelham Senior Center that feature classic southern fare from Dale’s Southern Grill in Hoover and musical selections by Chuck King and the Swing Kings. After dinner, the rest of the evening is spent swing dancing and jiving. “They have a beautiful dance floor. We use real dishes and silverware, and we have the best band around,” she says. In fact, Pelham Senior Center dances are so popular that tickets always sell out.

For Gloria, dancing has always been something that brought her joy. She recalls that her parents loved to dance, so she picked it up from them and has been dancing all of her life. About four years after the death of her first husband in the early 2000s, she found herself in a line dancing class looking for a little joy. It just so happened that Paxton was in her class, and he was also widowed and in search of a way to stay active and busy. “We started line dancing together, then going ballroom dancing and going to all of these others dances,” Hudson says.

At 82 and 78, Gloria and Dick got married. “We met in April and got married in December,” Hudson says. “I didn’t ever want to get married again and I’m not sure he did, but we did and we’ve been married 14 years. We have lots of fun.” As Paxton points out, “at a certain age, you can’t put things off. If you’re going to do it, you just have to do it.”

The servant leader

Calvin Gunn is usually out the door by 10 on most mornings and headed to his first meeting of the day to brainstorm ways to fundraise for various charities. Since he retired from AT&T in 2018 as a manager of finance and accounting, he’s thought of as the ideal person to have on a team charged with raising money for a cause.

“I’ve never been afraid of a no,” he says. Over the years he has leant his time to organizations that serve kids, because often times children don’t have a lot of control over the things that happen in their lives. That explains why he sat on the boards of directors for Family Connection and Pelham Parks and Recreation for more than two decades. Now he serves the area’s youth on the YMCA’s board of directors and can also be found working behind the scenes with Leadership Shelby County and its alumni association.

Getting involved and helping whenever he can comes natural to him, so much so that his nickname growing up was “Brother.” The eighth of 13 children, he was always the brother that others could rely on. “For whatever reason, I was always tapped to do something, whether it was go take the credit for this or go take the blame for that,” he says with a chuckle. Whatever he does, Gunn tries to live his life according to one of his favorite verses in the Bible, Matthew 20:8: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

Gunn’s leadership style means that most people may not realize the extent to which her serves his community. Most times he’s the person organizing and delegating duties for golf tournaments that raise thousands of dollars for nonprofits, but he prefers to stay out of the spotlight. He’ll often call on someone else to carry out the event. “If I can, I always want to be a servant,” he says. “I don’t want all the credit or the accolades. I just want to do it and make things better for those coming up behind me.”