Fort Belvoir Eagle, Friday, January 18, 2008
Belvoir bids farewell to beloved volunteer
By the time this is read, the final chapter in one man’s book about dedication will have been written.
Francis Houts, volunteer coordinator of Fort Belvoir’s American Red Cross, has retired after 12 years of service to the community. His resume speaks for itself. After moving to Mount Vernon in 1973, the retired Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Army Signal Corps started volunteering at DeWitt Hospital-the same facility where he and his wife, Yasuko, were receiving their healthcare. Because the hospital needed volunteers, Houts signed up and eagerly embraced the road ahead.
All total, he’s clocked in more than 86,000 hours as a volunteer and has helped save DeWitt Hospital hundreds of thousands of dollars in manpower. And he did it without batting an eyelash.
“It was my way of keeping busy. Neither my wife nor I wanted me to be home 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Houts said while smiling. “The hospital only accepts volunteers through the American Red Cross. So, I saw this as an opportunity to give back to Fort Belvoir. It was always good to me and my wife.”
As coordinator, Houts was responsible for organizing other volunteers at DeWitt. For many years, he would usually work three mornings, which later became two when his wife became ill. She passed away in 2005. Despite the setback in life, Houts continued to immerse himself at the hospital and, before he knew it, was back to volunteering three mornings a week at an average of four hours a day.
“The best part about being at a military hospital is that you get to meet people from all over the world. That’s always been fascinating to me,” Houts said. “I went through a tough time when my wife died, but learned just how appreciative people can be for the help you give them. I discovered that when I was thanking everyone for their support during that time in my life. It really does make a difference.”
Over the years, Houts has seen the number of volunteers at DeWitt drop off, going from an average of 100 down to its present group of 65. Though much can be attributed to families having both spouses working long hours due to a changing economy, Houts said he is pleased to see so many retired service-members, such as himself, getting involved.
A majority of DeWitt’s volunteers hail from Green Spring Village and The Fairfax, both retirement communities near Fort Belvoir. According to Houts, approximately $2 million in labor costs has been saved since he began working with the American Red Cross, which will only get bigger.
Having been through five different commanders at the hospital, Houts laughs at the idea of retiring for the third time in life. He first retired from the Army in 1988, which was followed in 1996 when he left the private sector after spending nearly 10 years with Computer Sciences Corp. Originally from south Texas, Houts is moving to a retirement community in Wilmington, N.C. Though he has friends in the area, he’s mindful of what he’s leaving behind.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make and I’ll regret not being able to volunteer at the new hospital. But, most of all, I’ll miss the people. Everyone here has been fantastic,” Houts said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone and being able to look at all the new babies when they’re born. That’s always a thrill for me. When I think about it, I guess I’ll miss everything about volunteering.”
By Paul Bello