Think about what contributes to a caring, supportive community. Any list would include the service clubs and the churches. Arguably, the press belong there. Near the top would be agencies like United Way and Community Care.
For decades Mike Puffer has played key roles in all of these.
Later this month, after 11 years as Executive-Director of the United Way and 14 years as Communications Officer with Community Care, Mike is “retiring” (more about the quotation marks later).
When I sit down with him it’s to hear some reflections on his professional and volunteer services. We meet upstairs at Remedy’s RX on Kent, the independent pharmacy owned and operated by his wife, Cathy.
Ten years ago, it was Cathy I interviewed. She was born and raised here. I assumed Mike, was, too, but he sets me straight. He was a Ryerson journalism student when his father was transferred here as branch manager at Victoria and Grey Trust in 1981.
“I was a pissed-off 19-year-old,” he tells me. A few months later, though, he met Cathy, and began to warm to the town.
When Mike graduated from Ryerson he was hired as a reporter by the Lindsay Post; ironically, Cathy was in Toronto, completing her degree in Pharmacy.
“It was a fantastic job for an energetic young man with a girlfriend in Toronto and nothing else to do,” he tells me. He didn’t mind 18 hour days and enjoyed covering high school sports, Homecoming celebrations and elections.
“I loved the way the daily paper would come together,” he says. “Early in the morning we’d be banging away on typewriters in preparation for paste-up and typesetting. At 11 am the paper would roll off the presses. There was always a jolt of adrenaline. We could revel for a minute. Then we’d go out and start all over again.”
Mike progressed from reporter to sports editor to managing editor. (Advocate Publisher Roderick Benns remembers selling his first freelance story to Mike — for a princely $25).
After the Post, a small independent daily, was sold to the Thomson conglomerate, it wasn’t the same. Mike moved on in 1992, taking a position as Resource Development Coordinator for Community Living.
Two years later, United Way created a full-time Executive-Director position. Mike applied and was hired. It was a dream job.
“There was involvement in the community, fundraising, dealing with people, and encouraging others to support the community in many different ways.” This is, after all, the umbrella agency that provides financial life-blood to everything from EarlyON Child and Family Centre and Big Brothers and Big Sisters to Community Care.
In 2005 he moved to Community Care City of Kawartha Lakes (later Community Care Health & Care Network) as Communications Officer, overseeing all the organization’s communications and marketing efforts, and supporting fundraising and development programs.
When Mike arrived everything happened out of small offices above the Canada Post office on Russell Street in Lindsay and the focus was on Meals-on-Wheels and other seniors’ services. Since then the organization has mushroomed, responding to emerging and growing needs.
There are currently 180 employees and no fewer than 500 volunteers offering a broad range of services from cradle to grave. These include food and nutrition programs; health, wellness and dental services offered at the Community Health Centre on Angeline; supports for seniors and special needs adults at home; rides and transportation to, for example, cancer treatments; and a hospice for those approaching death and those grieving a loss. In any given year around 7000 clients are assisted.
Part of the satisfaction in the work for Mike has been being part of that growth. Another part has been being associated with dedicated staff and selfless volunteers.
Yes, he gives at the office, but from childhood Mike was taught the importance of volunteer work. His Dad was a Rotarian and on any number of boards, including the Academy Theatre and United Way.
Listing his involvement yields a catalogue of community groups: 19 years as a Kinsmen and now a Rotarian, on the boards of the Cambridge Street United Church, Boys & Girls Club, Lindsay & District Chamber of Commerce, and Food Source; and one of the 100 Men Who Care. Volunteering is something he’d encourage others to do: “It’s good for the community; it’s also good for the volunteer — an opportunity to grow, to learn, and to make lifelong friends. It gives a sense of belonging.”
He’s worried, though. The volunteer force is aging and can’t be expected to do all the heavy lifting; recruiting new volunteers is a challenge. Service clubs, churches, the Legion, all face dwindling membership. (One group he feels could be engaged are recent retirees relocating to the area).
Mike is looking forward to more time with Cathy and there will be some travel. When we talked the pair had just returned from a 3-game weekend in Baltimore (Mike’s a lifelong Oriole’s fan.)
But he’ll continue his involvement with Rotary Club, Cambridge St. United Church, 100 Men Who Care, and the Food Source Board, and he plans to do some volunteering for Community Care as well, maybe as a volunteer driver.
There’s a new job, too (hence the quotation marks around “retiring.”) He’ll be assisting Cathy at Remedy’s, handling administration and health care promotion and education. He’ll also continue to do what’s he’s happily done from Day One at the pharmacy, serving as custodian, mopping floors and tending to recycling.
If you go by the dictionary definition of custodian –”a person with responsibility for protecting or taking care of something” — that’s just what he’s been doing, not just at Remedy’s, but for decades around our community.