'Wonderful people' of Penticton help senior back on his feet to 'help someone else' | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Penticton News

'Wonderful people' of Penticton help senior back on his feet to 'help someone else'

Bob Richards relaxing at home in Penticton. The 77-year-old ventures out in the evening supplementing his income by collecting recyclables in an effort to pay off a debt incurred after trying to help a family in need several years ago.

A Penticton man trying to recover from some rough times is feeling pretty good about the community he lives in these days.

Bob Richards was out collecting recyclable cans and bottles during some of this winter’s most frigid conditions when Mike Forster and Kristyn Trickey of Keep the Cold Off Penticton saw him last week.

The two operate a society aimed at assisting the city's homeless.

They stopped and had a chat with Bob, and were impressed by the pluck of the 77-year-old. Bob told them a bit about his circumstances and why he was out collecting bottles and cans on such a wintery evening.

Forster and Trickey offered him some assistance by posting his story and making a public request for recyclables, to be dropped off at Richards’ house.

Since posting Bob's story on Keep the Cold Off Penticton’s Facebook page last week, Bob says he’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for him in the community.

Bob recalls himself as a young man working in various British Columbia mines in Wells, in the Cariboo, and near Cawston in the Similkameen while relaxing in his modest home in Penticton.

He was in the depths of the underground workings one day, working at a stationary location for a period of time before moving down the tunnel.

Seconds after moving, a piece of rock broke off the tunnel and fell in the exact place where he’d been working.

“I’ve lived a charmed life,” Bob is still able to say, in spite of some setbacks in recent years.

The Penticton man was competing in his eighth Ironman in as many years in 2001 when his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

With limited funds, between 2005 and 2008 he was able to renovate the house and purchase a van equipped to allow her to function as independently as possible as the disease took its course.

In spite of those efforts, Bob’s wife’s health continued to decline and she was admitted to a care home two years later.

She died in December, 2015.

During that time, Bob was working for an American firm in Oliver when a fellow worker committed suicide, leaving his wife and two kids.

Bob could see the man’s family was suffering, and, as he says, he "took them under my wing.”

“I was working in Oliver at the time, and the man’s wife worked there. They were living in a hovel, and I thought I could help them out,” Bob says.

He didn’t have enough money to get a mortgage, but was able to raise enough money through a credit line to buy the family a mobile home.

He says it wasn’t the best situation, but it was the only option he had to help them at the time.

The Oliver plant Bob was working at was shuttered in 2010, but prior to that Bob had been suffering from a herniated disc and was unable to get compensation. In order to keep working, he was taking up to nine Percocets per day.

“It still gets sore every now and again, but I can go many days now without painkillers,” he says.

There was more pain, this time of a financial nature, to endure in 2014 when the family he'd adopted decided to move on.

“The kids got jobs out of town. She wanted to go with them, but keep the mobile home in case things didn’t work out, but she failed to keep up with the pad rental,” Bob says.

By the time Bob found out about the lapsed payments in March 2014, it was too late.

“When I finally got into it, it was demolished,” he says. Part of the damage came from neglect on the part of the occupants, and the rest of the damage was done after pipes burst in the unheated structure, and Bob was stuck with a worthless trailer and a big loan.

Bob says he is still on the hook for $93,000 from that experience.

Does he harbour any ill will to the family he tried to help?

“No, I don’t. I did the best I could and they weren’t able to handle it - I hope they get themselves sorted out, but I don’t think they are doing very well,” he says. “It happens. I’ve got to be thankful for what I’ve got, which lately is a town full of wonderful people,” he says.

Since word of his misfortunes and his determined efforts to move on made headlines last week, Bob’s fortunes have indeed brightened.

The chance meeting with Keep the Cold Off Penticton took place one night while out collecting recyclables to raise some extra cash.

He says he generally goes out for two and half hours around 9 p.m. and walks around the city looking for returnables, covering between nine and 14 kilometres in the process.

“That’s not a long walk for me. But it was fortuitous meeting up with Mike and Kristyn that night. I’m not the kind of guy who goes around asking for help, but when they offered it I was happy to accept,” Bob says.

A GoFundMe page set up for Bob by Claire and James Young had raised more than $26,000 in less than a week, as of today, Feb. 22, and Bob says he’s since received a veritable mountain of recyclables, enough to keep him busy dropping off returns for at least a week.

“It’s going to make a big difference in paying down that debt," he says. “I was feeling pretty down at the start of the year, last year wasn’t a good one. I was out walking one day and met a lady walking her dogs who I spoke to. She really lifted my spirits. Then last week I was out and met with Keep the Cold Off Penticton, and this happened."

“I’m feeling better physically and with all this financial help I’m hoping within four years I’ll be able to reach out and help someone else,” he says optimistically, then pauses.

"I plan to be a little more cautious this time.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to tips@infonews.ca and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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