By Roger Hofmeister
Dr Roger Hofmeister served in Malawi with the Peace Corps, later in Community Health, and is now using his retirement days by volunteering with a non-profit called Mobility Worldwide, where he also serves on their International Advisory Board. He loves spending time in the shop helping others experience the joy that comes from living a purposeful life. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.
When my wife and I moved to Columbia in 1970 with our four kids (ages 6-13) we had just completed two years in the Peace Corps in Malawi, Africa. I am a family physician and was recruited to be the director of a health project with 45 volunteers scattered across the country dealing with child nutrition and TB surveillance. It was without a doubt, the best two years of our lives. Our original plan was to stay for two years to get my Masters Degree in Public Health at the University of Missouri, then move on to perhaps another overseas assignment. I managed to obtain the MSPH, but like a lot of people who come to Columbia, we never quite got out of town. We loved the city, the schools, and the specialty of Family Medicine was just beginning nationally and at MIZZOU. I ended up as an early faculty member and taught Family and Community Medicine for 22 years before finally retiring (for the third time) in about 1996. I did my undergrad at Western Illinois U., Medical School at the U of Illinois in Chicago, and after a one year internship, I spent two years meeting my selective service requirement in the Indian Health Service at Gallup, New Mexico. From there I was in a family medical practice in Mt.Morris, Illinois for 5 years. I volunteered with Project Concern for 3 months in 1967 in the Central Highlands of Dampao, Vietnam. This is likely more than you needed to know, but I mention these things in order to explain some of the reasons why I was attracted to getting involved with the PET Project (now Mobility Worldwide) upon retirement. Throughout my life and career as a physician, I have witnessed many people with leg disabilities in Vietnam and Africa and the costly impact it had on their lives. Crawling on the ground or being carried for your every need is not a lifestyle anyone would choose.
I met Mel West, one of the cofounders of the PET Project, through our church and soon thereafter became one of the volunteers who helped build the mobility carts we called PETS (personal energy transportation). Years later, I still consider Mel to be a great friend and spiritual mentor. Because I felt this relentless need to do something productive in retirement, something beyond chasing a golf ball around the turf, this organization seemed like a great fit. It came at just the right time, it was what I needed as I entered this new phase of life. As the project grew, my role expanded into things like helping organize the shop and volunteer work force. I have volunteered with them in some capacity for over 20 years and would do it again in a heart beat. Following one of our annual meetings in San Antonio, I was able to go on a distribution of carts trip across the border in Mexico. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the recipients and their families when they climb into their cart for the first time and peddle off on their own is something I’ll never forget.
Mobility Worldwide has grown into a national/international project with shops building carts in twenty-two locations in the U.S. and two locations in Africa. Carts are rolling in over 100 countries with over 80,000 distributed. If you’ve never visited our website: giftofmobility.org [giftofmobility.org], give it a look. The story of how the project started and the impact it has made on the mobility impaired is amazing and the pictures and stories are the pay checks for all those who volunteer their time and funds to make it go. Our Columbia shop moved into a great new building a year ago and we invite everyone to come and see what we do at our new location: 4825 E Meyer Industrial Dr, Columbia 65201. We are always looking for volunteers. There are all kinds of jobs, big and small; there’s something for every skill level and it is a fun place to spend some time, doing something really life changing for those Jesus Christ called, “The least of these.” In summary, MW has been a blessing to me in my retirement. I would be remiss if I didn’t add, that MW has also found me the second love of my life. After nearly 60 years of married life, I lost my long-time partner. But through my time at MW, I have discovered another wonderful relationship. A woman, another volunteer who had also lost her partner of many years, became my friend. And that wonderful woman, later, become my wife. Mel West was best man at our wedding and we are about to celebrate our fourth year of what we call “Chapter 2.” We sure did not see that coming!
Like so many things in life, I’ve discovered some of the best surprises come at just the right time and are filled with joyful meaning.