Monday, 11 August 2008

How blessed I am to know this man

Volunteer known as a steady hand offering help


By Cathy Zollo

The man muttering garbled English, the one everyone else assumed was drunk that day a few years back at Resurrection House, caught Ray Grills' attention and had him sending another volunteer to investigate.
The man, it turned out, was profoundly deaf and needed a hearing aid, which volunteers arranged.

It is just one of the stories they tell about Grills at Resurrection House.

Now 93 and one of its longest serving volunteers, he arrives four mornings a week before 7 a.m.

He readies a breakfast of cereal, pastry, coffee and tea for the crowd that gathers out front. He washes, dries and folds some of the laundry they left the night before. He lays out towels for the ones who want to shower.

"We'll put out the milk just before they come in," he says.

And just after that, he slips out the back door -- sometimes before the first homeless person walks in the front.

"He's a behind-the-scenes kind of guy," says Bill Wilson, development director at the center.

Grills, a retired chemist, does this work just a few blocks from his condo that overlooks Sarasota Bay.

He could spend his days relaxing by the pool or passing the time some other way, but says, "I'm not built that way."

Despite an ankle brace that keeps his foot from misbehaving, Grills is built for running.

Spreading a white quilt made of race T-shirts on his bed, he says, "I've run enough so that every one of my grandchildren and children has got one of these."

His cat is sleeping on another. A row of shirts hang in the closet behind him, awaiting a sewing needle.

Grills mostly walks these days, often up to six miles, but in 1996, he represented Resurrection House, carrying the Olympic torch through the city.

Jane Grills, his wife of 57 years, lived to see that. She died in 1998, so now it is just Ray and a big orange cat named Little Guy living at the Sarasota Bay Club.

He moved into the condo so he could have the same view he and Jane had from their house on Bird Key.

"I look out over the same water," he says staring out the window.

The son of an Illinois coal miner, Grills' childhood lacked nothing but had no extras. His mother, wanting Ray and his brother Charles to escape the small town, made them take the high school courses to get into college.

It paid off.

Charles went on to work for Walt Disney, becoming an animation camera pioneer. Ray earned a doctorate in chemistry and spent 34 years working for DuPont, including heading the company's operations in Argentina for more than three years.

But he seems more inclined these days to talk about Resurrection House.

"I'll do anything for them," he says.

It is evidence of the philosophy he adopted from John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church: "Do all the good you can, by all means you can, in all ways you can, in all places you can, at all times you can, to all people you can, as long as ever you can."

When he is not at the Resurrection House, Grills helps put together lunches for Meals on Wheels and volunteers at his church, First United Methodist. He is also a founding father of the the Community Foundation of Sarasota.

"He is the person you can always count on," said David Proch, executive director of Resurrection House. "He'll always go that extra mile. He's always willing to come in early and pick up extra responsibilities when we're in a pinch.

"He's pretty inspirational."

As for the deaf man Grills spotted mumbling in the common room years ago, he got a job right after getting the hearing aid and has never returned to the streets.

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