If you ask Charles Gamble his secret to staying young at heart, the 84-year-old founder of Mr. Gamble’s Kids Fund will tell you it’s spending time with children who are hungry to learn.
“When I attended elementary school in the city, they would take us to see the Saint Louis Symphony—I was enthralled from the very beginning,” he says. “Since then, I’ve gone every year. Having that experience got me thinking about kids who never get the opportunity to be exposed to cultural events, and I wanted to be the one who made a difference in their lives.”
Gamble, who’s been married to wife Grace for almost 52 years, ‘officially’ retired in the mid-1990s following a long (and storied) career in the service industry, including working at the old Mayfair Hotel downtown and at the former Chase Hotel. “That was probably my crowning glory, working at The Chase in the ‘60s. I started out as the restaurant manager and eventually became the catering manager,” he says. “I was the guy in charge of organizing the VP and the Fleur de Lis balls, which were held at the hotel in those days.” In the ‘70s, Gamble moved on to work for Bellerive Country Club and Maritz.
Following his retirement, Gamble started to devote his energy to realizing his dream of creating meaningful learning experiences for underserved children. In 2008, using his own money, he established Mr. Gamble’s Kids Fund (mrgambleskids.org), an endowment that underwrites school-sponsored field trips for academically challenged third- and fourth-graders in the Normandy School District. So far, the fund has raised $29,000. “This year, we took the kids and their tutors to The Magic House. Last year, we visited the Science Center,” Gamble reports. He says every check the foundation receives is put to good use. “We pay for fees, meals, treats and other expenses, and I’m proud to say all the money is carefully accounted for.”
Individual and corporate donations are helping the fund grow, and Gamble’s big wish is to raise a minimum of $50,000 in his lifetime. “Grace and I have no children—the name’s all gone,” he says. “This fund is what I’m going to leave behind.”
“What?!” That was 80-year-old Raymond Unger’s reaction when he found out that he was among 26 Americans across the country singled out to be honored for extraordinary volunteer service. In May, Unger traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in Metlife Foundation’s Older Volunteers Enrich America Awards, which recognized his longtime work delivering meals on behalf of South County Senior Center. “For years, I did shift work at Anheuser-Busch. When I retired, my sister-in-law mentioned that the senior center needed a driver to deliver meals,” he says. “I started doing it part-time in 1990, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
The Meal Runners program, operated in conjunction with Bayless High School, pairs students with center volunteers to deliver meals to homebound seniors. “I really enjoy it and look forward to it every day,” Unger says. “Our clients are just happy to have somebody come by. For many of them, we’re the only ones they see all day.” A typical day for him begins at 8 a.m. when he shows up at the senior center—where he’s volunteered formore than 20 years. “I come in, check to make sure coffee is made and donuts are ready,” he says with a chuckle. His delivery shift starts around 10 a.m. “I have a different student with me each day, all of them very nice, intelligent kids—the kind of kids our clients are just tickled to death to spend time with.”
The camaraderie he builds with his young charges is another thing that keeps Unger motivated five days a week, delivering 13 meals a day. “I get really attached to them,” he says. “We have a lot of Bosnian students who participate, and they’ve been trying to teach me the language. I also worked with a Latino student who would translate letters written to me in Spanish by a Costa Rican child I’ve sponsored for years. Well, that didn’t work out too well. If I could only get all these languages straightened out!”
When Unger traveled to the nation’s capitol to receive his award, his group of students gave him $500 in spending money, which they raised themselves. “It was enough of a shock to find out that I was nominated (by the senior center’s director). Then to send me off the way they did,” he says. “It was a really great feeling.”
Unger, whose wife Tessie Ann passed away in 2000, has three daughters, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. While much of his free time these days is spent at the senior center, he also enjoys working in the garden or helping out friends whenever he can. “I’m very seldom in the house,” he says. “I always like to be outside doing something.”