SAN MARCOS — Thanks to his dedication to volunteerism, longtime San Marcos resident Richard “Dick” Ellis has learned about giving back to others tenfold.
The 75-year-old retiree happily dedicates two mornings a week as a volunteer driver for the San Diego Ronald McDonald House. He covers ground by foot, as well as on the road, to gather up food and retail donations from the community to support those families with a critically ill or injured child in a San Diego hospital.
“I make the rounds to many of the grocery stores like Trader Joe’s, Ralphs and Vons among others where I pick up donations such as food items, produce, meats, baked goods and dairy,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of really nice people along the way and there are some really great people who work at The Ronald McDonald House.”
What is the RMH?
The Ronald McDonald House provides a “home away from home” to families experiencing a medical crisis by providing 55 overnight suites, full access to the House’s resources — including meals, nap rooms, a nondenominational chapel — and more so families can remain strong for their child, as they experience one of the most difficult times of their lives.
Ellis said he initially became involved with the Ronald McDonald House as a tribute to his late daughter, Sabra, 35, who actively volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She died in 2014 from an aneurism and suffered from neutropenia, a white blood count disease.
“She loved children and she was happy to volunteer her time and my initial reason to volunteer for RMH was to carry on with that commitment,” he said. “After spending time volunteering though, I really learned and understood why she enjoyed it so much. Now, I volunteer because I see how it affects the families and children who need our support.”
In addition to volunteering at Ronald McDonald House, Ellis is also a volunteer for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for two days a week. He often heads to the park after his morning shift at the Ronald McDonald House. Between the two volunteering gigs he is devoting between 20 and 25 hours per week.
He said both volunteering positions have been more than satisfying and quite fun. Each role is different, but each one is fulfilling in its own way and brings something different to the table.
“At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, I am a park ambassador and I specialize in elephants and the animals in the Walkabout Australia area,” he said. “That along with the three to four hours a day after my volunteering efforts walking keeps me occupied and gives my wife a break at home.”
Ellis received special training to learn about elephants, kangaroos and wallabies to answer visitors’ questions and give them further insight into these animals. Incidentally, did you know that elephants have the best hearing of all land animals?
“The Ronald McDonald House makes me feel like I am doing something really good for families and the Safari Park is so much fun. I am working with people, kids, animals and I get to be outside at the park,” he said.
Ellis, who was born in the Rochester, New York, began his career working on a dairy farm in western New York. After his high school years, he spent three years in the military and worked three years as a welder. He then settled into a rewarding career in the medical equipment field for 47 years before deciding to retire.
“I tried to retire after working long hours, but I got bored really quick,” he said. “So, I went back to work before finally retiring in 2015.”
Ellis also earned a college degree at age 60 from University of Phoenix in 2003 and he was the student speaker at graduation where he spoke about the motivation to get a degree at age 60.
“Let’s just say part of the reason I went back to school was because I have three sisters who are teachers,” he laughed.
The transition from working full time to volunteering, (which began again in 2015) for Ellis has been pleasing this time around: “I have found the current volunteering efforts to be enjoyable as it is quite different from what I had been doing,” he said.
A slight hiccup
However, things haven’t always been smooth sailing on the volunteer circuit for Ellis, for example, in 2017, he suffered a heart attack and had to undergo a quadruple bypass.
“The cardiologist and my doctor said walking would be good exercise after the surgery. And it has been,” he said. “I really enjoy walking overall, and I enjoy walking on the horse trails and at Walnut Grove Park in San Marcos. I worked my way up to 15 miles a day about four months after the heart attack and I have continued at that pace. I didn’t want to overdo it.”
“I’ve always been a walker,” he said. “I’ve lost 50 pounds since my surgery with the help of walking regularly.”
Ellis has resided in San Marcos for 20 years and is married to his wife, Mandy. He has a daughter, and a son, as well as a stepdaughter, and four grandchildren. He also has two dogs.
Ellis added the best thing about volunteering for him at Ronald McDonald House is “knowing my efforts are doing others good and the hardest is the commute in I-15 from San Marcos to the RMHC location in San Diego.”
But don’t look for him to hand in his busy volunteering cape any time soon, Ellis said he’ll be helping until he’s “no longer physically able.”
Obviously, something that is very good news for the Ronald McDonald House and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.