Despite retiring five years ago, Fred Ruge puts in even more hours these days as a volunteer, devoting his time to helping fellow war veterans on Maui.
The spry 82-year-old Wailuku resident assists veterans with taking advantage of medical benefits and other assistance available to them through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Ruge, a Korean War vet himself, also transports veterans in his Ford Mustang convertible to and from medical appointments on the island, even escorting some to appointments on Oahu and the Mainland.
"Oftentimes veterans are too disabled to be able to go to an appointment on their own. Fred is my go-to guy whenever a veteran needs a ride to the clinic or to see a medical doctor. He's always ready and willing to escort people to and from Tripler (Army Medical Center on Oahu) or even as far as the Mainland," said Richard MacDonald, a counseling psychologist at the Maui Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Kahului.
"I don't know if I've ever met anybody who is as selfless as Fred is with his time and energy when it comes to facilitating the needs of veterans and also the homeless," said MacDonald, who has known Ruge for about 20 years.
"Every day of his life he's out helping people," said Wailea resident Janna Hoehn, who met Ruge through her self-imposed task of finding photographs of all Maui County service members who died fighting in Vietnam and helping fundraise for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
Ruge said he doesn't deserve any recognition; he's simply helping out.
"People tend to ignore veterans and a lot of people don't realize there are over 12,000 veterans on Maui," said Ruge, a Detroit native and combat veteran of the Korean War's 25th Infantry Division, known as Tropic Lightning.
"And a lot of veterans don't ask for help because they're intimidated or just feel like they don't want charity. This isn't charity. A lot of veterans need to be convinced that they're entitled to benefits," he said.
Ruge is an honorary member of World War II's 100th Infantry Division/442nd Regimental Combat Team in recognition of his volunteer work with that group.
"Fred's a Korean War veteran, but he's a very active member of the 442nd," MacDonald said. "He's always looking after the welfare of these older guys. He'll round them up and take them to the VA office. Many aren't aware they can file a claim for benefits or that benefits are available."
MacDonald said he and Ruge, who both serve on the board of the Salvation Army, have been volunteering together the last four Christmases to ring bells for the organization outside Walmart and Kmart. They raised about $2,000 both this year and last year.
"We usually do 10 or 12 days, three hours a day. I'm in my elf suit, dancing to my boombox and Fred's there, smiling," MacDonald said. "I call him 'Smiley' because he's got a million-dollar smile, and behind that smile is a guy who's just constantly giving. He's a remarkable human being."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.