This is a guest post by Ashley Miller, VISTE’s Volunteer Coordinator, who spoke at the funeral of Colman Boyles. These comments were taken from her statements at his funeral.
Recently, VISTE lost a very special volunteer. It is my honor to share Colman’s story on behalf of VISTE and those staff, volunteers, and clients whose lives were touched by his unending generosity.
When I think of Colman, I can’t help but think of this quote that I love about volunteerism. It says, “What the heart gives away is never gone. It is kept in the hearts of others.”
Colman Boyles embodied volunteerism. And not only was he an amazing volunteer, but a champion for so many who could not do for themselves. He believed in helping everyone – not just the elderly. He would sometimes remind me that he was an old man himself, but I never thought of him in that way. He was always more than that to me, and I knew when I called, he would answer.
I met Colman about six years ago when I first began my job as the Volunteer Coordinator. I had a call from an elderly client who was stuck inside their home and needed a wheelchair ramp. I had no idea where to begin to get this done. That’s when our CFO, Walt, told me to call the “onion man.” And so my relationship with Colman began. And he soon became so much more than the “onion man.”
Colman was quick to gather together a crew of additional volunteers to get the job done. He always made that part look easy, and would always show up with more than just himself in tow. Drawing others in, and sharing VISTE’s needs was just one of the above and beyond aspects of Colman. And I don’t think it was calculated – I think he just felt like everyone should be helping others who were in need. He asked for help from you as if it was your responsibility, and not a choice. Colman was direct, and he expected nothing but the best from others. Quite frankly, he wouldn’t let me get away with anything. Believe me, I tried.
Over time, Colman and friends built countless wheelchair ramps. Every detail was accounted for. He even recruited volunteers from the fire department to repair old power chairs so that the clients who he built ramps for could have an even more improved quality of life. And after he was finished with every job, he would always ask, “what’s next?”
“Next” was delivering birthday cakes to clients turning 90 or older. Many times, he showed up to save the day by delivering pancake breakfasts, or Thanksgiving meals. He would help with our annual fundraiser, VISTEBall, staying up late with the rest of us, doing whatever was asked. Colman was innovative and clever. Several years ago, he figured out that scrapping old broken walkers and wheelchairs would turn into a profit for us. So he’d come by and load up his trailer with who knows what and proudly come back with an envelope full of cash. He was always thinking, always moving. Most days, I could barely keep up with him.
Earlier this year, Colman showed up at VISTE with a handful of strawberry plants he had procured from Plant City. He wanted to teach me how to plant them in our garden. I knew it would be a thorough explanation, so I carved out a good hour to spend with him learning how to care for these strawberries. We ended up running into some of our little kid helpers in the garden that day, and it was precious to watch their faces as Colman explained to them how to plant. The children later talked about the tall man who helped them in the garden, and how they planted strawberries with him. He touched lives without even knowing it.
The strawberries were a little slow to take. In fact, they looked pretty sad after a week of watering. I asked a volunteer to go out to the garden to pull weeks from the beds, and when he came back to tell me the job was done, he asked me to take a look. He had pulled every single one of those crispy strawberry plants from the bed. He had no idea. I winced thinking about how I would tell Colman what we had done. I thanked the volunteer and hoped that I would figure something out before Colman’s next weekly visit.
Finally, I had to tell him. He immediately wanted to know who would have done such a thing. Of course, I wasn’t going to rat out my volunteer, so I laid my body on the tracks, and scheduled another garden day with Colman. Just as we had agreed, Colman showed up the next week with his second batch of strawberries, and we planted again. I was very protective of these strawberries. Everything else in that garden could have died, as long as those strawberries were flourishing. As the season continued, they grew, and grew, and grew, and Colman came to check on them regularly. We were really proud of those strawberries. One day, I noticed something green popping up in between the plants. They were strawberry onions. The onion man had struck again.
I will miss my phone ringing at least twice a week with a call from Colman. If I didn’t answer or call him back on his schedule, he would be right there in my office. If I wasn’t quick enough, he’d wander around the warehouse, chatting with his friends about his next idea to help us.
Colman was an inspiration to many, and his legacy will live on in me, in us, and all of those who called him a friend. Our hearts are with each of you, as we transition into life without Colman. He was truly one of a kind, and he will be so missed.