LAKE WYLIE -- Never underestimate the heart of someone who's been there.
Or, at least, of someone like 90-year-old Bob Meeker of River Hills. Someone whose own time of need came and went, but whose resolve to see others through similar situations never did.
"People helped me so much when my wife died, I wanted to reciprocate," Meeker said.
Still active as anyone two decades his junior -- minus, perhaps, the daily afternoon nap -- Meeker still competes on the community tennis courts and tends to the same house he first called home 32 years ago. The Minneapolis, Minn., native also serves with the River Hills Lions Club, a member more than three decades.
Never miss a local story.
And while the Lion motto, "We Serve," fits Meeker that entire time, many in his community know Meeker best for the service he took up shortly after his wife, Gretchen, died a dozen years ago.
"It's basically helping people," said Bob Daily, former club president, of the Helping Hands effort. "It certainly fits into the motto of the club."
If a church ran the Helping Hands program, they'd call it a ministry. To Meeker, it's a community service, one that mirrors the generosity shown him all those years ago. Sometimes Meeker sits with a senior while a family member runs errands. Sometimes he drives for someone who can't, or helps around the house for someone who can't.
"It's very important," said Gerry Orlick, former Lions Club president and current regional chairman for the state. "It's one of those things you take for granted until you need it, but when you need it it's very valuable to you."
In the past four weeks, Meeker's schedule included driving a woman to her doctor, finding a walker for another woman following a fall and helping a new widow sort out financial information.
"They're completely lost, and they're in a bad position when they lose a spouse," Meeker said.
With an understanding of such situations only experience can bring, Meeker gladly assists with life insurance statements, social security checks and income tax information. After all, Meeker well remembers how much help he needed, from keeping up his home to more basic needs.
"I'm not a cook," he said.
Sandy Decker, a Lions board member, also knows how important Helping Hands can be. The program, began as a standing committee by Bill Heflin in 1987, served Decker after a bad fall 20 years ago, driving her to and from therapy sessions. After Meeker took over, Decker received help both with her grandmother and her husband's mother while both were living in River Hills.
"Bob used to drive my mother-in-law to doctor's appointments all the time, and they were close to the same age," Decker said. "He really is a good man. He is so willing to help and he's always in a good mood."
Similar stories are not hard to find in River Hills, Orlick said. Especially with a senior population, full of people needing more assistance with each passing year.
"People see River Hills and they think of the fancy homes, but there are people here who are really struggling," Orlick said.
To hear Meeker tell it, though, the Helping Hands program is not as selfless as it seems.
"The best part is meeting the people," he said. "I found a lot of places I didn't know before. A lot of doctors."
Despite meeting people in times of poor health or emotional impasse, Meeker sees his River Hills neighbors as family. With a daughter and granddaughter in Chicago and a brother in Tennessee, the closest family he has are neighbors within walking distance, or sometimes a short drive to the doctor.
Still, Meeker -- who does get some help from another resident who wants to remain anonymous -- hopes others in his community might find the same satisfaction in serving he has.
"I'm looking for some help," Meeker said, "on an as-needed basis."
Volunteers should expect a rewarding experience, even a chance to meet new people or find new places. Not a bad way to spend time, Meeker said, even if the job comes without insight into how a man outliving his mother by three decades and his father by two did it, how he keeps so active and for many inspiring. If he has a secret, Meeker isn't sharing it.
"Just good luck," he said.