MARQUETTE - When Fred Margrif retired in 2001, he missed the structure his life had before he said goodbye to the working world.
"Basically, when you retire, it's a big change," Margrif said. "My life had been pretty much scheduled since I was 4 years old and starting kindergarten through when I earned my Ph.D. through the 30 years of teaching I did.
"When I retired, I found I didn't have as much purpose," he said. "I needed something to get me out of my depression."
The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program recently moved its office from Marquette to Ishpeming. It provides many opportunities for seniors to help others. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Marquette resident Margrif found something to give him a new sense of purpose: He became a volunteer non-emergency medical transporter for the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Marquette County.
Transporters provide frail and/or isolated seniors living in Marquette County with a ride to a non-emergency medical appointment, with occasional stops at a pharmacy to pick up prescriptions thrown in. To qualify, potential transporters must be age 55 or older, have a good driving record and some time to spare.
"I find doing this meaningful," he said. "I enjoy driving, probably even more in winter than I do in summer."
Margrif said he knows for some of the people he transports, the company on the journey is just as important as the transportation.
"I like listening to people's life stories," he said. "There's the loneliness factor. Sometimes I just listen to them. I feel the depression thing I've gone through is helpful with people going through these situations."
Margrif serves as a transporter just about every week.
"If organizations like RSVP didn't do this sort of thing, some people wouldn't be able to stay in their homes," he said. "So I feel as though I am really helping out."
Margrif said when he's unable to serve as a transporter, he doesn't feel pressured.
"If I am busy or have something going on with my family, I can say no," he said. "I don't feel a lot of stress which makes this much more enjoyable to do."
In all, he's glad to be a transporter.
"It makes me feel good when I do it," Margrif said. "I am so happy to do this."
That's why Sylvia Heikkinen of Marquette has been a transporter, too, for about two decades.
"You meet nice people," she said. "It's what I want to do to make me feel happy. I really, really enjoy it."
Amy Mattson, RSVP director, said to be a transporter, a person must have a valid driver's license, a clean driving record and auto insurance. RSVP does provide extra auto insurance coverage for transporters.
"Generally, the transporter spends an hour or 90 minutes on a trip," she said. "Usually they get one or two days notice that someone needs to be transported. If the transporter we call isn't available, we move on to someone else on the list."
In fiscal year 2010, 642 rides were provided through the transporter program.
Seniors using the program must be 60 or older, Mattson said.
"Our literature says isolated or frail, but we try to work with people as best we can," she said. "For most of these folks, it's not possible to ride on a bus because of their physical challenges. And most could not afford the cost of a taxi.
"We offer this service free to seniors," Mattson said. "But we would not turn down donations if they are offered."
The RSVP Medical Transportation Program is funded by local donations, including United Way of Marquette County.
For more information, call the RSVP office at 485-1782.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.