Bill Cutler is 91. He's had some heart problems and worries that he isn't dependable anymore. He tried to quit the Hudson Rotary a few months ago because he could no longer make all the meetings.
They tore up his letter.
You don't let a guy like Bill Cutler get away without a fight.
Whether ringing the bell at Winn-Dixie for the Salvation Army or publishing the Rotary newsletter, Cutler has been a beloved member of the club since moving here in 1984. But it is his work on behalf of poor, crippled people in Barbados that has elevated him to a rare level of respect.
Cutler owns a business that ships building materials out of Miami. In 1991, a client in Barbados told him about two children who could not get to school because they could not afford wheelchairs. Cutler helped find chairs. He was hooked.
In the next four years, he and fellow Hudson Rotarians raised enough money to send 75 new wheelchairs to the small Caribbean nation, which has an unusually high rate of crippling diabetes. Cutler included the wheelchairs in his regular shipments, and Rotary and Lions Club members in Barbados delivered them.
The effort remains a regular project of the Hudson Rotary, and Cutler estimates the number of wheelchairs delivered has increased to 300. Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point helps Cutler secure the chairs at a discount.
Cutler first mentioned the wheelchair project to me 15 years ago, but I had met him long before that — in his front yard with his wife, Dotty. They seemed like Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus to my wide-eyed daughters, who accepted free candy canes through the minivan window along with warm Christmas greetings. People who love driving around to see elaborate holiday displays have put Western Circle in the Beacon Woods subdivision high on their list for almost three decades.
At one time, 30 animated creatures mingled among 10,000 lights in the Cutlers' front yard and cars moved slowly along both sides of the narrow residential street. Other homeowners caught the spirit and soon the entire street became a wonderland with carols blasting from outdoor speakers.
When visitors learned that Cutler had built each creation, they wondered if he had worked at Disney World. "What's your electric bill?'' they asked. The Cutlers never worried about that. "We just liked doing it,'' he said. "We love Christmas.''
Even after our kids grew up, we made an annual trip over to Western Circle. We celebrated that the Cutlers still decorated, knowing how difficult it must be for them. Last year, when Bill suffered a heart attack, the display diminished. This year it is lovely, but hardly as elaborate.
Dotty, two years younger than her husband for 71 years, has a bum leg. She's still a regular volunteer at the Hudson Library, "but I can't be lugging stuff around the yard anymore,'' she said.
Bill doesn't build many Christmas creatures anymore, but he still spends hours in his garage with three different saws he uses to make wooden clocks with intricate designs.
They have sons in Jacksonville and Houston, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. They don't like thinking about it, but they are considering moving into an assisted living facility in Houston, maybe next year. "It's hard to imagine leaving here,'' Dotty said. "We have such good neighbors.''
They quickly change the subject. They much prefer telling me about the Christmas week visit they will get from their great-grandson and his new bride.
"I can't believe they want to spend Christmas with a couple of old geezers,'' Bill said.
"I beg your pardon,'' responded Dotty. "Did you just call me a geezer?''
They both laugh.
This is a happy home, complete with 15-year-old Molly, a lovable pooch that the Cutlers rescued from the pound (naturally) when she was a pup. Molly doesn't see or hear well anymore, but she seems plenty content and friendly.
Exactly what you would expect.