Greek philosopher Socrates taught that an unexamined life is not worth living, and Bob Gregory discovered earlier this year that such an inspection is worth the effort.
But it was the accumulation of all the efforts he and wife Pat have made and the award they received for their work that prompted the inspection.
The Gregorys received the Citizens of the Year award July 4 from the Lincolnshire Community Association, during its Red, White & Boom festival. Inveterate volunteers since 1995, the couple were the overwhelming choice in 2014, their first year of eligibility, now that they have retired from the LCA.
“They’ll give it to anybody,” Bob said of his half of the selection. “My family frequently says, ‘Whenever Bob volunteers, Pat’s work doubles and triples.’”
He is 58, she 54, and together they have accumulated a third lifetime worth of memories from their extracurriculars. They have volunteered at Village Hall, the Spring Lake Sports League before it became the Lincolnshire Sports Association, Stevenson High School Community Foundation, North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield and Lincolnshire-Prairie View Elementary District 103.
And the Gregorys had to list all that in a resume of sorts when they received their Citizen of the Year nominations. When Bob e-mailed their form to LCA organizer Sandy Saltiel, a former Citizen of the Year with husband David, Bob told her how much fun he and Pat had examining what they had done so far with their lives.
But there are two other groups Bob says will receive the majority of his focus in the next few years: the National Multiple Schlerosis Foundation and the Myelin Repair Foundation. An MS sufferer since 1990, Bob has done his share of the family volunteering chores from a wheelchair.
But Gregory intends to stand and walk away from that chair, hopefully in five years. He spoke of the research that may be getting close to finding a method of reinsulating the frayed nerves of MS victims, and his ambition to raise more money for both groups.
Q: You’ve always said that you felt appreciated and thanked, but volunteering regularly in a variety of capacities always causes wear and tear. What kept you two going?
A: We did it because our daughter (Christine) was involved. It was a way for us to make sure we had time with her. As you go along, you realize the benefits of volunteering. You meet the most incredible people. And, it comes back to you tenfold. It can be tiring, but it also can be incredibly energizing.
Q: But serving inevitably brings other people’s problems into your home. What is it like for the Gregorys on those nights when you’re squabbling with each other about how to fix a situation that may not directly concern you?
A: Show me a married couple where it doesn’t come up. Of course, you’re doing too much or I’m doing too much, and that particular day there’s a conflict. On the very rare day when you get negative feedback, you ask “Why am I doing this?” But there’s a lot more situations where we’re working on things together that we’d never get to do if we weren’t volunteers.
We were on the road the whole week before the Fourth of July, so, we come home and there’s all these things that have to happen all at once. But we got through it. It’s after all the fireworks had gone off and somebody came over and hugged Pat, and that made it all worthwhile. It’s those things.
Q: It could not have been much of a surprise to be nominated for Citizens of the Year, even in your first year of eligibility. But how did it feel to go out there and receive that recognition?
A: I was thrilled to death. My sister always says, “You shouldn’t be complimented for doing the right thing.” I get a lot of credit already. I was really glad Pat got nominated also. And this was an incredible group of nominees. To be a part of that, it was humbling.
Q: What’s next for the Gregorys?
A: I’m a fundraiser for a number of research foundations, but there’s one, the Myelin Repair Foundation, and I’m going to be working a lot more with them. That’s where I’m going to spend most of my time.
Q: In your acceptance e-mail, you recounted all the stuff you and Pat have done, and after that, you wrote, “Everybody should do this.” What did you gain from examining your life thus far, and what might others who haven’t done it gain by looking back through their lives?
A: First of all, it brought back really good memories. I hadn’t thought about a lot of that stuff for a long time. It reminded me of that saying, “Never underestimate the power of a small group to change the world, because, in fact, that’s all that’s ever done it.” Small contributions from ordinary people make a big impact.