Archive for Thursday, December 23, 2004

Spirit of volunteerism:

Area man makes helping others a staple of life

December 23, 2004

Not judging a book by its cover is a philosophy that holds particularly true when first meeting John Davis, a former Shawnee resident turned Kansas City, Kan., good samaritan.

Skeptics might believe the Porsche in the driveway, the diamond stud earring and his petition to erect a statue for a late woman rumored to have been "a lady of the evening" in the 1920s don't exactly fit into the equation of someone that holds a deep-seated passion for helping others.

However, after considering his laundry-list resume of volunteer activities and listening to the 56-year-old speak glowingly about helping others, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many more chapters to this book than first assumptions might indicate.

"At Christmas, you lose on the packages," Davis said. "Why don't you give something that really means something, something from here (pointing to his heart).

To be fair, Davis doesn't consider himself a patron saint and won't promote himself as one either. His resume, however, does all the speaking and self-promotion for him.

In the past 14 years, he has worked with various groups, including the Marillac Foundation, an Overland Park group that helps psychologically disabled children, Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity and numerous others, far too many to recount here.

Evelyn Van Kemseke, the director of Shawnee Community Services, also said Davis can be seen gathering food from her organization's storefront once a week that he takes to shut-ins or people in need.

"He comes in here all the time and is always doing something for people," said Van Kemseke, someone who knows a thing or two herself about helping people in need.

Currently, Davis, a semi-retired handyman, is a member of the advisory board for the Salvation Army bell ringers, a group he's worked with during the past eight holiday seasons. But, don't consider Davis a pencil pusher that doesn't do any real work for the Salvation Army.

Most Saturdays, he can be seen working the kettles at Cabela's in western Wyandotte County.

"Most of the people (that money gained from Salvation Army donations helps) I'll never get to meet, never get to see, but I know I'm helping. (Bell ringers) work for a real cause."

While braving the winter weather to work the kettles may chill the blood, Davis said there are often cases of people exhibiting such kindness that it warms the heart.

One of those times came during Davis' shift at Cabela's. He said a woman walked out of the store, saw him working and gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek.

"She had tears in her eyes -- I said the Salvation Army helped you at some point in your life didn't they?" Davis said. "She said 'I think they saved my life.' What that meant, I don't know, but it's those kinds of stories (that make it worthwhile)."

Another example came when a young boy who had saved his allowance for the entire year came to Davis and spent 45 minutes depositing his donations one coin at a time. There are other occasions as well, Davis said, like when teen-agers bring all the coins from their vehicles' ashtrays to place inside the donation bins or when random strangers drop big bills into the donations tills.

For Davis, these examples of blind kindness reaffirm that volunteerism offers plenty of self-satisfying rewards and that giving to others isn't a notion lost on humanity.

"Ninety percent of (bell ringers) are paid in fact because we can't get enough volunteers and that's bad," he said.

"I would like to see all the young people take up the cause. It's important to people it helps; it means giving something from you to someone else. What's more rewarding than that?"

Davis' volunteer endeavors don't end with the holiday season.

Making a positive impact on the lives of others is a staple of living for Davis and something that extends well past the confines of the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Like millions of motorcycle enthusiasts, Davis travels to South Dakota for an annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis. However, instead of a week of partying and the associated debauchery, Davis spends the majority of his time handing out Bibles to bikers in the streets.

"My faith has a lot to do with how I live," said Davis, a former deacon at his Turner church. "You'd be surprised at how much religion there is in Sturgis.

"The women will never turn down a Bible because they know they have to ride home (on a motorcycle) with the men," Davis said with a chuckle.

It's also in South Dakota that Davis finds himself embroiled in perhaps his most unusual endeavor to date. It all started six years ago when he met the late Josie Arsaga, an elderly woman living in Deadwood who did anything but act her age.

Arsaga was a town fixture of Deadwood and Friday and Saturday nights could be found dancing from approximately 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. in the No. 10 saloon -- the same saloon where Wild Bill Hickock was murdered.

Davis, like many town residents and visitors, became acquainted with Arsaga -- "the fragile China doll of Deadwood" -- who he said was a kind woman that didn't let the boundaries of age curb an adventurous and youthful spirit.

She died at the age of 102, said Davis, who upon learning of her death began a push to have a statue erected in Deadwood in her honor.

"Everyone within 500 miles knew this woman," he said. "I bet you 40,000 people knew that woman.

"I wanted to see something done for her. She gave so much to the community. I wanted to see something done in her memory."

In past years, Davis has petitioned local government officials, Chamber of Commerce members and just about anyone else who would listen to procure the $20,000 necessary to have the Arsaga statue built. So far, efforts supporting Davis's cause have been met with hesitation, he said, because rumors have circulated that his late friend may have dabbled in the world's oldest profession early in life.

However, that notion "doesn't hold water" for Davis, who believes a person's life should be measured by the positive impact it's had on others and not one's place on the social class hierarchy.

Like his volunteer efforts, Davis said he doesn't plan to stop until he's accomplished his goal.

"Anyway possible, anyway I can help someone else and volunteer, I do it. A lot of people don't understand. It's just for me. I think it's wonderful to give.

"That's what I try to do and I don't give up, either. It's sort of in my blood."

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