Chatfield residents, from left, Gary Redwing, Donna Redwing and Bill Griffith, enjoy spending time in their “re-tire-ment” by volunteering at the Chatfield tourist center.    GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Chatfield residents, from left, Gary Redwing, Donna Redwing and Bill Griffith, enjoy spending time in their “re-tire-ment” by volunteering at the Chatfield tourist center. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS

Chatfield residents Bill Griffith, Gary and Donna Redwing and Betty Balcome know what “re-tire-ment” is: It’s when people get new tires so they can drive to Chatfield for all the various reasons and stop at the tourist center.

“It depends on the day,” said Griffith, a former J. C. Penney’s store manager who now spends his time behind the desk at the Chatfield Tourist Center on the east side of City Park. He and his fellow volunteers are treated to a view of Highway 52 traffic buzzing by the only stoplight in Fillmore County.

“People have come here for so many reasons,” he quipped. “A lot of them stop to use the bathroom and let their kids out to play on the playground, which is neat because we appreciate that many visitors do that. Where else can you stop and let the children out, let them let off some steam? But, please don’t leave them here.”

Among the reasons visitors noted for stopping at the visitor center are stopping on one’s way to other destinations, checking flowers, looking for information about trout fishing, visiting family or simply touring the area.

Griffith, the Redwings and Balcome are devoted volunteers at the tourist center, senior citizens who know their donated time directing visitors in and around Chatfield is valued and valuable because they have the time.

Former television and appliance store owner Gary Redwing likes to go uptown for his morning coffee, then stop in at the tourist center on the days it’s open and check in to find out whether there’s anyone available to volunteer. He’s there because Griffith approached him about minding the little log building approximately three years ago.

Griffith said he is there because he and his wife, Myrthis, had always volunteered at The Salvation Army in Sturgis, Mich., but were looking for volunteer opportunities once they moved to Chatfield to be closer to one of their two daughters and their grandchildren.

Since their grandchildren had grown up faster than expected – as they always do – Myrthis joined the Chatfield Brass Band to play clarinet and Bill went in search of somewhere to give of his time, just about five years ago.

“I’m a fan of the growers’ market here, an absolute fan of that place, and one day, I was at the growers’ market and saw the tourist building sign out front,” Griffith said. “I thought, ‘They’re here on a Thursday. I could be here on a Thursday afternoon too.’”

Now, Griffith is responsible for answering the phone, handing out free postcards of the city and also putting the Chatfield Brass Band concert sign out front for the Thursday evening concerts.

“I was kind of looking for a thing to be busy at, to do something, maybe meeting people, because in my job, I had constant exposure to people,” he added.

That means he doesn’t mind at all if he happens to meet someone from Denmark who’s biking across the United States and stops in for directions to Iowa.

“I admire someone who wants to bike across our country,” he commented.

Gary enjoys that part of being at the desk – he and his wife like chatting with people from all over.

Additionally, there’s a playful competition to see which of the dozen or more volunteers can log the most hours at the tourist center.

Gary stated they have “an angel that sits here” because Betty Balcome is at the center every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a goal of logging 100 volunteer hours for the season. With only 20 weeks in a season, they all find it to be “quite an admirable goal.”

Gary noted, “We outdid her last year by about 20 hours.”

Griffith observed, “Donna is very pleasant and brings her computer in here. She and Sue compute all afternoon.”

He referred to Sue Awes, director of Help Our Neighbors Senior Partners (HON), the program that stations its headquarters in the tourist center during the summer.

“Sue even is getting good at answering our phone and telling people how to get places if there’s nobody else here. She’s proof that you don’t have to be a Chatfield native to help people at the center…she’s from California,” Griffith said. “But Gary and Donna have been a real blessing, with their open-door policy. This place is loaded with great volunteers.”

Griffith pointed out there’s still room for more volunteers – senior citizens or young people – and that it’s an “interesting” pastime that is unpredictable and rewarding at the same time.

“There’s certainly room for people to give of their time – there’s so much to do here in Chatfield that you could spend half a day just looking around,” he said.

Griffith, Gary and Donna Redwing and Betty Balcome can be found at the Chatfield Tourist Center Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The shift from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, well, that belongs to Balcome, an angel who never tires of “re-tire-ment.”