The sun is barely up and Jim Turner, 77, has already pedaled his bike 15 miles. This is nothing for him. He usually does 20 miles a day and recently rode all the way across Georgia.
But today he had to cut his ride short. It's his turn to be milkman, so he drives his 2000 Buick Park Avenue over to the Hudson Wal-Mart Supercenter, pushes a cart to the coolers and loads 38 gallons. At the checkout counter, the cashier doesn't flinch as she collects $109.44. She's seen Jim and the other Men of Promise before. At least one member of the small group of volunteers from the First United Methodist Church of Hudson delivers milk regularly to homeless and abuse shelters and to places like HPH Hospice and the Angelus complex for profoundly disabled people.
Jim has been doing this for 15 years. You can tell he loves it. The smile never leaves his face, even as he bends deep into the trunk of the Buick to retrieve another heavy jug of 2 percent low-fat.
"It's my pleasure," he says.
At the hospice house in the Beacon Woods subdivision, he banters with Carol Thomas, a volunteer in the kitchen who also sings in the church choir. He mentions that this Saturday is his regular shift to help out in the same kitchen, to which Carol says, "I'll warn the patients."
They laugh and then Jim is off to the Holy Ground homeless shelter.
The Men of Promise meet for breakfast at 6:30 every Wednesday morning. They kick in their own money for the milk program and other charities. This week's informal agenda: how to get the grass cut at the church, since the custodian left abruptly. The rain made it grow a foot in a week.
Friday afternoon, with all the July heat and humidity, Jim took his turn on the mower. Typical. Something needs to get done, he does it.
Jim Turner is reluctant to talk about himself. He didn't ask for this column but his wife, Patti, a retired English teacher, is pretty convincing. She thought his story could inspire a whole host of us.
She was right.
This man has quietly gone about helping the less fortunate with no expectations of thanks or recognition. He has driven the bus for the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind. He helps elderly people with their finances through CARES, the Pasco nonprofit agency for seniors.
When Hurricane Charley ripped across the state in 2005, Jim and Patti volunteered in devastated Arcadia. She cooked, he joined teams of men with chain saws. He has done similar manual labor during 13 short-term church missions in several countries, including Haiti, Brazil, El Salvador, Costa Rica, France and Cuba.
Jim has also been a familiar face at the local blood bank for years, donating 26 gallons. Recently, however, he had to stop.
"They told me I couldn't give if I'd recently been to Haiti, Costa Rica or had cancer,'' he said. "And I had all three.''
Last July doctors diagnosed Jim with prostate cancer. He underwent cryoablation, and two weeks later he was back on his bicycle. Jim complained more about an incident a few months ago, when a dog got tangled in his spokes. The bike flipped. Jim landed hard on a shoulder.
He had to stop riding for a while. He took to jogging a few miles a day, but the shoulder is better now.
Once he was on his daily ride through the neighborhoods around his house in Hudson when he noticed a stray cat. He picked it up and took it home, thinking he would find a home for it later. Toby became part of the Turner household. When he died years later, Jim and Patti buried him in the yard.
These are nice people.
Jim and Patti have been married 23 years. It's the second go-around for both. Jim worked 32 years for Reynolds Metals Co. after graduating from the University of South Carolina and serving in the Army. He worked in St. Petersburg for several years before opening a distribution center in Hudson in 1980.
Patti taught English at Ridgewood High School. After Jim retired from Reynolds in 1990, he became a substitute teacher of several courses at Ridgewood. The school needed a girls tennis coach, so guess who volunteered?
It's a pattern that has defined this interesting gentleman. Jim Turner is more than a milkman.