Sam Butler has been giving back for 27 years

04/06/2012 12:00 AM

04/26/2012 10:25 AM

When Sam Butler started his volunteer work, the hospital was a modest two-story building nestled on the edge of Highway 99 in south Sacramento, and he was a recent civil service retiree from McClellan Air Force Base thinking he might want to give back to the community.

Today, after 27 years of Thursday afternoon information desk shifts at the now-sprawling Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, south Sacramento, Butler, 87, is the center's longest serving volunteer.

"You don't find people as dedicated as Sam is any more," said one of the medical center's volunteer coordinators, Valerie Sanders. "We can count on him like clockwork. His dedication amazes me.

"He's genuinely here because he wants to help."

Butler, who was born in Bakersfield but graduated from Sacramento High School in the early 1940s after his family moved here, sees volunteering in simple terms.

"I'm civic-minded," he said. "I always liked to give back."

When his mother was struggling with illness in her final years, he said, she received support from many community organizations.

"So I promised myself then that I'd give that help back to the community when I had the chance," he said.

That's what people of his generation did: They donated their time as volunteers – not as a way to scope out potential job openings, as younger volunteers today often tend to, but because they believed in service.

As Sanders put it: "This group has a giving attitude."

Because of his dedication to his volunteer work, Butler received a President's Volunteer Service Award from the White House in 2010.

At the information desk in the Dan B. Moore Building, which houses the physical therapy department and the sleep lab, Butler greets patients and helps them make their way to their appointments, making sure they have wheelchairs, if necessary.

"People come through," he said. "They see you with a badge, but they don't necessarily see that you're a volunteer. They think you're an employee. I try to give them information."

He served in the military during World War II, then re-upped in 1946 as part of the nation's first all-black parachute unit, which was later absorbed into the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

"We jumped," he said. "I was young. You have all these ideas like young people have. I wanted to get out there and serve."

He and his wife of 66 years, Lula, raised their family in Sacramento's Glen Elder neighborhood, where the Butlers still live. He is also involved in the Lions Club, the Elks and the 82nd Airborne Association.

"If I didn't stay busy, I'd be gone," he said. "I've found that out. A lot of friends who didn't make sure they were busy are already gone now.

"Besides, I like helping people."

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