Gus Suhr has a heart for service — whether that’s serving his country or serving the needy in his community.
The 88-year-old Korean War Era veteran spends every Monday at St. Vincent de Paul’s downtown Phoenix Dining Room on the Human Services Campus. You’ll find him sorting donations, serving up meals or sweeping up the courtyard. It’s volunteer work far removed from the intensity of military service but grounded in the same desire to give back what time and energy Gus has to his community.
“I can’t think of anything better to do than come down here and serve everybody else,” Gus says.
In September of 1954, Gus decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. He had been captain of the baseball team at Santa Clara University in California before deciding the Army needed him more. After four months of basic training, he was sent overseas to Germany in January of 1955.
“It used to get so, so cold in Germany sometimes that you remember sleeping in your jeep,” Gus remembers.
“We’d have the sirens blowing, and we’d have to be out of our [quarters] within an hour,” he continues, “and then they’d usually put us in the force, and we’d have to set up all the provisions in case there was an actual attack.”
While certainly not easy, it’s a time of Gus’ life that helped form the man he is today.
“I’m proud and glad I was able to serve for a while,” Gus says.
After his service to the country, it was back to Santa Clara University and the baseball team, and then on to professional baseball in the New York Yankees minor league.
“I made it all the way up to their triple-A affiliate,” Gus says, “but I was not quite good enough to make it to the majors.”
Afterward, Gus gave up baseball and settled into a 30-year career with Chevron Oil Company. Retirement eventually called him to sunny Arizona in 2005, and soon thereafter, he began volunteering at SVdP. He was 72 at the time and has volunteered ever since.
“I was looking for something to do. I can’t play golf every day,” he laughed. “I started coming in here about one day a week for about three or four months, and then I asked them to expand my days.”
Prior to the pandemic, Gus served three days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But even when the pandemic slowed volunteer opportunities, Gus didn’t let that stop his weekly presence in the dining room. To this day, he still shows up every Monday to help out.
Service to others means everything to Gus. And on this special week leading up to Veteran’s Day, it means even more seeing the community celebrate and honor its military heroes.
“It means a lot,” says Gus, who honors his fallen service members every year with a visit to the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.
“All of our lives would be changed right now if it wasn’t for the veterans,” Gus continues. “It’s a special day for me, and it’s a special day for millions of Americans.”
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