Dexter resident Bill Koch enjoys working with people. That's why the retired carpenter and his wife Ruth have spent the past eight years volunteering alongside a small dedicated group of 15 volunteers who donate a few hours of their day to deliver more than 100 hot lunches to elderly residents as part of the Dexter Meals on Wheels program.
"We joined up in 2004 after I retired. It seemed like a good thing to do while spending time with each other and helping out the community," he said.
Every Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m., Bill and Ruth Koch start their day with breakfast at Panera Bread on Jackson Road before heading to the to load up their SUV with meals to local seniors.
The recipients’ situations vary. Around 80 percent are elderly, and some of the seniors can’t prepare their own food and need regular service. Others are recovering from a hospital stay, and only need assistance temporarily. A portion of clients are younger but have a medical condition or disability and need assistance.
For recipients in more dire situations, the Meals on Wheels volunteers may be their only daily contact with another person, and the volunteers also do “wellness checks.”
Ruth said delivery people get to know the residents and can access emergency contact information or quickly get in touch with family or friends if someone doesn’t answer the door.
“It’s about much more than just the meal,” she said. "We enjoy it. We get to meet such nice people, and they really treasure the meals. Sometimes people look forward to our visit just to talk as much as they look forward to the meal itself."
Ruth and Bill both come from a rich background rooted in community service.
"I grew up in the old westside of Ann Arbor, and my mom volunteered a lot at our church," Ruth explained. "Anytime anyone was sick, she would help them. It was a different generation back then; everyone had a lot more time."
Bill, a former board member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, said in his circle of collegues, he was often the "go to" man for problems.
"I've never been able to say no to anyone," he laughed. "As a carpenter, I would be the one people would call on to fix something at the church. There was always some sort of repair that needed to be done."
That spirit of caring rubbed off, and after reading about volunteer opportunities with the Meals on Wheels program, the couple decided to give it a shot.
"I was skeptical at first because I really didn't know what it was about," Bill said. "Eight years later we are still here. I enjoy being able to take a few hours out of the day for a lesiurely drive in the country knowing that I'm helping someone else."
The couple, who are both 72, volunteer to deliver to eight seniors along the rural parts of the community, sometimes driving up to 30 miles out of town on their own dime just to catch a glimpse of the local scenery.
"It's beautiful in the country," Ruth said. "I love wildlife. We've seen deer, peacocks, llamas, pheasants and other animals. I wouldn't change anything about our route. Sometimes its rough on the car, but we love what we do."
The couple has made friends along the way, too.
"You get to know the people on your route over time," Ruth said. "When you've been doing this for as long as we've had, you become part of people's lives. It's always sad when someone on the route dies or moves away."
Since joining the program, Ruth and Bill have become regular volunteers in the community, helping out at various senior center fundraisers, and even assisting in the clean-up effort following the .
"We can't do a lot, but whenever we are free, we try to help out," Bill said. "One of my neighbors lost 90 trees in the tornado, so I spent a good amount of time helping him clear the land."
Every year the couple also brings a brigade of friends and family to the Dexter Senior Center to assist with pretzel making for Dexter Daze, the center's summer ice cream social, and the Webster Township Fall Festival.
"We have a lot of fun in our old age," Ruth joked. "It's all about seniors helping seniors."
Cindy Ziegler, nutrition program meals coordinator for the Dexter Senior Center, said the Kochs are a group favorite among members.
"They are two wonderful people," she said. "They fill in when I need help, and they always have a great attitude."
When they are not volunteering, Bill and Ruth enjoy camping outdoors or spending time with their children and grandchildren. The couple will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary in October.
"We have our ups and downs, just like anyone else, but it's been a good ride," Bill said.
For information on the Dexter Meals on Wheels program, call 734-426-5397.