Like most successful parties, the Tooele Senior Center’s weekend Cinco De Mayo celebration left a mess in its wake. But the center’s staff had already run up against their weekly allotment of hours, so they planned to clean up first thing Monday morning.
When they arrived, they found the room spotless. Dave Seely, one of the center’s volunteers, had returned over the weekend and cleaned up the entire area, even putting away the tables and more than 100 chairs.
“But that’s just the kind of guy Dave is,” said Debbie Winn, Tooele Senior Center lead.
Dave has been a dedicated volunteer for the senior center for the last three years, and currently donates 10–20 hours a week to the center. Though he works a few hours a week as a paid driver for the center’s medical transportation program, he regularly donates his time as a driver. Additionally, Dave performs maintenance and custodial duties for the center, also free of charge.
But he doesn’t do it alone. Two years ago, his wife, Mary “Rusti” Seely, joined Dave in his volunteer efforts. She volunteers for 16 hours a week, manning the center’s front desk and handling other business-related affairs.
Both are among the center’s most-dedicated volunteers, Winn said. While the center has many regular and invaluable volunteers who dedicate several hours a week, Winn said there were few, if any, volunteers who dedicate as much time on a regular basis as the Seelys.
Both Seelys bring professional expertise to the volunteer effort. Rusti spent much of her professional career as a secretary — a position she said she held “until the computers got too scary.”
Dave, on the other hand, is more of a jack-of-all trades. He spent most of his career as a truck driver — so much he has a “built-in GPS” that helps him in his current transportation duties, Rusti said — but he started his career at the old International Smelter in Pine Canyon.
Despite working at the smelter, both Dave and Rusti are transplants from California. In fact, they grew up together in the same small town and were something of high school sweethearts, though Rusti said her mother disapproved of the relationship and kept them apart. The pair went their separate ways, and each married a separate spouse and raised a family.
As life went on, Dave ended up divorcing his first wife, and Rusti’s first husband passed away in a car accident. The pair happened to reconnect one day when they happened to visit their California hometown at the same time, and they have been together ever since.
Today, the Seelys have been married for more than 30 years. And their story has an all-around happy ending — Rusti said her mother eventually came around, and even came to like Dave, before she passed away two years ago.
It was her mother’s death that prompted Rusti to start volunteering, she said. Her mother was a long-time volunteer, and when she passed away, Rusti decided she wanted to honor her mother’s memory by giving of her own time. Although it started out as a tribute to her parents, Rusti said she came to value her volunteer position for the relationships she developed at the senior center. When her father passed away last year, she said, it was the men and women who usually came to her to pick up meal tickets, nutritional supplements and senior center newsletters who offered the most support.
Dave, likewise, said he places great importance on developing relationships with the seniors he serves at the center.
“I like to be there to hear their stories, and they like to hear some of mine,” he said.
“He’s full of stories,” Rusti agreed with a chuckle, “even if they’re not true.”
Dave’s stories and sense of humor have made him popular with the senior center’s patrons, Rusti said. And his status as an amputee who drives and cleans and cooks with one hand has made him something of a local celebrity.
“If he’s out, people will ask after him all the time,” Rusti said.
Dave tells plenty of stories about how he lost his right hand. Children will hear how a large dog once bit it off when he went out to deliver a package; with his closer friends, he jokes about losing it after hugging a nice-looking blonde.
But the true story, Dave said, is that his hand was crushed when the hydraulics failed on the garbage truck he was driving.
The truth still makes a fine story, the way Dave tells it. After the truck fell on his hand, he said, he was pinned for several minutes — conscious the entire time — until the child of a polygamous family that lived up the road heard him calling for help. When asked for Rusti’s work number, which he had never memorized, he said the number came to his mind “by the grace of God.”
The first thing he said after he learned his hand was amputated, Rusti said, was that he feared “he wasn’t going to be able to hold me like he used to anymore.”
However, Dave’s spirit soon recovered. He spent six weeks in the hospital before his release, and by that time, Dave said, he had already learned to write with his left hand.
“I haven’t let it stop me from doing anything I want to do,” Dave said.
When he retired, Dave said, he wanted to stay busy, so he started volunteering with the senior center to keep his skills sharp. Three years later, he’s just as dedicated to fixing whatever happens to break and cleaning whatever messes happen to appear.
That said, he added he wouldn’t mind sneaking away with Rusti for a camping trip one of these days. Rusti caught a larger fish than him on their last outing, Dave said, and he has yet to even the score.