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Rubin: 94-year-old Detroiter lends helping hand

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

There was a big guy wearing an orange-and-white sleeping bag like a cape and a slender guy with no teeth and a woman in a white-hooded vest.

Bud gave them all the same instruction: sign your first name, take a ticket, hold it up when you want your food.

The big guy walked to the corner of the basement dining hall and shrugged off the four Hefty bags holding his worldly goods. The slender guy found a chair and drummed his fingers on the long silver tabletop. The woman said, “Hallelujah!”

Bud said, “First name here, and have a seat.”

It was noontime Saturday at Spirit of Hope, an Episcopal and Lutheran congregation at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Trumbull. Lunch was being served.

“Don’t need your last name,” Bud said. “Take a red ticket; take a seat.”

Today is Thanksgiving, when families gather and the Lions play and kind people make their way to soup kitchens to ladle gravy onto the mashed potatoes of poor souls who have nowhere else to go.

TV cameras roll and everyone glows and it’s a good thing, truly. People need to care, and people need to know they’re cared about.

But caring doesn’t start or stop on holidays. It’s a year-round proposition, sometimes scheduled and sometimes not, and it’s a concept older than Edwin (Bud) Clark — who, come Jan. 31, will turn 95.

Bud is a lifelong bachelor who has lived in the same house on the northwest side since he was 4. He’s a World War II veteran who didn’t know his only brother was fighting a mile away from him in France until the brother was killed.

He struggles into Spirit of Hope every Saturday with a cane in his right hand and a crutch beneath his left arm. The instep of his right shoe drags across the well-used white floor tile.

He takes a seat at an industrial gray office desk near the front entrance and does what he can to help, the same as he’s been doing for ... oh, heck, even he doesn’t remember how long. Or how long it’s been since he retired from the electrical contracting company where he managed the office.

Figure 30 years or more for both. It’s not important. What’s important is showing up.

Spirit of Hope has been around since 1890, when it was Trinity Episcopal. The dollar store and Norm’s Liquor Express across the street are newer than that.

The church has an urban farm and an elaborate playscape out back. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, a rotating cast of church and youth groups come in to make and serve lunch and give away clothes. Sunday mornings, there’s a food pantry.

Five days before Thanksgiving, a throng from St. George Lutheran Church in Brighton carpooled in with 16 carved turkeys and the familiar go-withs. As they plated the food, TroyHope Ministry served it.

James Lee of Rochester came with the Troy group and brought his daughters, 14 and 12. “I wanted them to experience what true Thanksgiving is,” he said.

Jane Dettore of Brighton came with St. George. “There couldn’t be a greater gift to give us than to help these people,” she said.

Bud came with Terrence Townsend, 53. “Terry,” an old girlfriend told Townsend 22 years ago, “there’s a white man outside feeding your dog.”

Bud and Townsend became friends, then roommates. At this point, Townsend is his caretaker. Bud has four dogs, two cats and a ready supply of healthy frozen dinners. After a triple bypass a few years ago, his only dietary extravagance is whatever’s being served at the English Gothic church where he started as a parishioner and became a fixture.

“When people try to get back in line on a busy day,” Townsend said, “Kool-Aid still on their mouth, that makes him mad. But he doesn’t get ticked off too much.”

At the door, a man with an Olde English D tattooed near the corner of his eye picked up a red ticket. Behind him, a regular named Jerry stood against the wall with an open hymnal and began to sing.

Bud was saying he thought about getting married “now and then,” but he needed to take care of his mother, who lived to 97. He said he had one ancestor killed at Gettysburg and another in World War I, both Williams, and his brother was a William, too.

He didn’t have much to do later beside feed the dogs, he said, so he thought he’d have Townsend swing past his alma mater, Cooley High.

Jerry, the baritone, switched from hymns to “The Star Spangled Banner,” a sign that lunch was nearly over.

The man with the sleeping bag cape and the woman who said hallelujah were both gone.

The slender man was still drumming his fingers.

Bud’s pastor, Matthew Bode, said Bud gives a feeling of living history to a place that takes pride in its past. At this point, the volunteer groups need to see Bud, and he thinks Bud likes being needed.

Bud said he hadn’t given it any deep thought; it’s where he expects to be on Saturday, so it’s where he goes.

“I just like to do it,” he said.

No one was coming through the door, but he was at his desk, just in case.