Friday, March 18, 2022

By Linda Peterson

Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — St. Olaf parishioner Ray Salazar has made charity a way of life. The retired Air Force civilian police officer devotes several days a week to service at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Recently, he was one of four volunteers featured in a flyer released by the VA Hospital.

“Ray is amazing,” said Christopher Scott, head of volunteer services at the hospital. “His gift to our veterans is priceless. He always has an amazing attitude. He is always caring and concerned. Beyond volunteering, he works with the Knights of Columbus and helps raise donations for our establishment and for our veterans. He volunteers not only directly with VA, but indirectly to support vets.

In fact, Salazar’s position at the VA Hospital grew out of his service as a Knight of Columbus. Deputy Grand Knight of St. Olaf’s Council, he helped with a service project his council participated in five years ago, when Knights were asked to fill holiday thank-you bags and deliver them to veterans. to the hospital. Salazar was struck by the dignity and great need for assistance of these people who had served their country, so it was easy for him to agree to continue his service there.

Now Salazar works three four-hour shifts each week at the hospital and often puts in more hours when needed. He and other volunteers move patients in wheelchairs, beds and on stretchers around hospital clinics, picking up and delivering lab work as they go.

Salazar, who has served five years of active duty in the Air Force, finds great satisfaction in giving back to those he considers his comrades in arms.

“My biggest regret is that I only learned about it after retiring a few years ago,” he said.

Salazar finds it heartbreaking that many patients are homeless or have been abandoned or exploited by their families. Often the only guardians they have are their wives.

“’What will happen when the 75-year-old veteran’s wife dies; who will take care of him? I often worry,” he said.

Salazar’s parents were always actively involved in the community and taught him to be charitable, he said. His grandfather was a World War I veteran, and Salazar says he’s ‘just giving back’ with his time in the VA, adding that he enjoys being with veterans and hearing the stories. they share about the many conflicts in which they have served.

When all volunteer service at the hospital was suspended for a year during the pandemic, it was difficult, Salazar said, so after being vaccinated he was happy to return to work there in February 2021.

A divorced father of two adult sons and grandfather of five, Salazar is active on his Knights of Columbus council, which is also heavily involved with the VA hospital. Prior to the pandemic, they regularly provided meals at Fisher House, which provides housing for families and caregivers of veterans and military personnel receiving hospital care. Waiting to be allowed to do so again once the pandemic is over, they are fundraising to buy gift cards to donate to the program. Council members also clean the headstones of veterans buried at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery.

In addition to these volunteer positions, Salazar sits on the Diocesan Scouting Committee and officiates in girls’ fastpitch softball.

“Ray is dedicated to his Catholic faith,” said Joe Nesi, Grand Knight of St. Olaf’s Council. “As a knight, he is my right arm. I know I can count on Ray whenever we do anything. Ray is also a dedicated softball umpire and baseball fan.

Salazar encourages others to give time to the VA where they have a particularly serious need for golf cart drivers, he said. Many of those who volunteered there before the pandemic were seniors who did not return, Salazar said.

“They still need VA help,” he said. “I could volunteer there five days a week, eight hours a day. It feels good to give back.