Face of the Week: Woodholme Elementary School Volunteer Bob Davis
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Face of the Week: Woodholme Elementary School Volunteer Bob Davis

Last year, when Bob Davis began the short drive each Monday from his home down Mount Wilson Lane to Woodholme Elementary School, his thoughts invariably drifted back to the years before retirement.

To the sacrifices needed to become successful in wholesale distribution. To the endless days he’d spent building his own business, $15 million and 45 employees strong at the end. And to the days and nights he had devoted to his work instead of his family – his wife Wendy and boys Jeffrey and Mark – and how regretful he was.

“I worked pretty hard then,” he says, “and I missed a good amount of my children growing up. . . .  I’m not optimistic about (having) any grandchildren, either.”

So when he signed up to volunteer at Woodholme, he says, it was “my way to do penance.”

Today, at 68, Davis still sees volunteering as a grand way of giving back to his community, but it’s no longer penance. It has become a passion.

“My goal is to do something to create change for the better,” Davis says, taking a break from assisting Grade 2 teacher Anne Jones. “There’s no better place to do that than a school, and no better place to give to a child. . . . This is my entertainment. This is my fun. This makes me very happy.”

Since he began volunteering one day a week last year, Davis has earned a reputation for soft-spoken, positive effectiveness, say those who have worked with him. “What a treasure!” says Jones. “It was apparent from the start that he was ‘all in.’ . . . He is focused on student success and walks around making sure the students are on task if he’s not working with a small group. He loves the kids and they love to work with him.”

Each Monday, Davis delights in working with Jones’s class until lunch, when he “sneaks off” to his nearby home for “a well-deserved nap” before returning to spend each afternoon in Suzanne DeMallie’s Grade 4 classroom. 

The work also has opened a new world to him, one he had heard about only through friends who are    retired teachers or from his wife, a retired speech and language pathologist for Baltimore City schools. As he has assisted teachers and students in Grades 1, and 2, and 4 since 2015, Wendy has become his Sherpa of sorts.

“Especially that first year,” he says, “I’d come home and ask her, ‘How should I do this?’ or ‘What does this mean?’ My wife has been telling me stories for 30 years, so she’s been able to help me a lot.”

Mostly, though, it’s the children themselves who stir Davis’ soul. He delights in recounting the differences he notices between students in Grades 1 and 2 (“It’s amazing the maturity they gain from one year to the next”) to his admiration for the job teachers do every day (“I don’t think I’ve met a non-committed teacher yet”).

For now, Davis is content to keep his volunteering to Mondays, though he admits to feeling sad when his school day is done. Still relatively new to this retirement business, he and Wendy fill the rest of their weeks with travelling, visits to museums, taking classes or going to seminars, playing cards, and to looking after his 96-year-old mother and her elderly father.

“I believe that if you commit to one thing, you give it your all,” he says of his volunteering.

Still, there remain experiences unfound for Davis at Woodholme, and he leaves open the possibility of expanding his classroom volunteering in the future. “I feel like I’ve made a difference,” he says. “But you know, with the teachers here, I’ve learned that everyone tries to find that light in their students’ eyes.”

He pauses to collect his thoughts, his own blue eyes widening. “I hope I can find some of that, too.”   

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