Gale 'Butch' Sheehan: 'I just like to be involved'

Posted: Dec. 5, 2012 5:58 pm Updated: Dec. 20, 2012 2:23 pm

Gale "Butch" Sheehan of Quincy has a soft spot in his heart for kids.

Sheehan, 73, and his wife, Jeanette, were foster parents for 21 children. They adopted three of them.

Both are also heavily involved in the Quincy Salvation Army. Jeanette has been employed there for 40 years while Butch has been an avid volunteer.

For example, Butch has been a volunteer driver for 40 years. He picks up Salvation Army members and drives them to services on Sundays. He also drives groups of youths and adults to summer camps and other events.

One of his biggest volunteer contributions involves helping with the Salvation Army "canteen" -- a portable food truck that goes to fires, floods and other emergencies to provide nourishment for emergency crews, volunteers and victims.

Sheehan retired in 2005 after working 15 years as a torch operator at Electric Wheel and 25 years at Titan.

"I just like to be involved," he said. "It's just something I like to do."

Why Butch volunteers, in his own words:

"I got involved with the Salvation Army about 1972. A friend of mine was a member down there, and he was starting up a fast-pitch softball team. I was playing with another team at the time, but they needed a pitcher. So I fit right in. Then they told me, 'You ought to come to church.' So I started going to the church. Then they said, 'You ought to start coming to Sunday School.' Then they said, 'You ought to come in the evening.' So gradually it was three times a week. I got really involved and have been there ever since."

"They needed a driver, so I started out driving for the Girl Guard program. It's like Girl Scouts. Now they call them something else. Then they had the Sunbeam program. My wife worked with that. That's kind of how I got involved, because she was busy doing the program and I just said to myself, "Why not drive the bus?'"

"On Sunday, I pick up children and adults and give them a ride to church. I've been doing that for almost 40 years. I used to be young when I started doing this. Now I've turned into the senior citizen."

"I do a lot of driving. In the summertime, you've got boys programs, you've got seniors programs, you've got church camp. I go to the camps, too. I go to the men's camp. That's for our older guys. But I just drive the bus for the kids. I take them, drop them off, then I come back a week later and pick them up and bring them back."

"I've really enjoyed driving the bus. The kids have grown up, and now they've got kids of their own. I'll be out at Wal-Mart and I'll run into somebody and they'll go, 'Hi, Butch. How you doing?' I'll say, 'I'm doing great.' Then I ask myself, 'Who was that?' Sometimes I need to ask them (their names), but I'm too embarrassed to ask them. I run into that all the time. It's crazy, but that's the good part I really enjoy -- when they grow up and they still remember you."

"When I got started (working with the canteen program about 20 years ago), we used a church bus or a van -- whatever was available -- to haul coffee and sandwiches. We go to the fires. We do other stuff, too, like when Mark Twain Lake was overflowing and flooding. We were over there about two weeks on that one. So it's any disaster. We even went to the plane crash over in Kirksville. We've got food, drinks, sandwiches. We take care of that part, and the Red Cross does the other part (at disaster scenes) with housing and stuff like that. It's a partnership with them."

"I like to be active in doing things with people. I had it pretty rough when I was a kid. I remember when we didn't have anything to eat, so I can relate to that today when somebody needs something."

"A friend of mine and I used to run the basketball program for the Salvation Army. We had the Douglas boys when they were kids. It was exciting to see those guys when they got to high school. We used to rent out Lincoln School, and we had a program down there. Every Monday night we'd go down there and have basketball. We'd draw all kinds of kids. We were coaching them and refereeing the games and keeping the peace. That was an exciting time. Sometimes the kids would get into fights before we even got there, and we had to deal with that.

"I was always involved in sports and stuff, and I always loved kids."

"A lady who worked for DCFS was at the Salvation Army, and she kept asking me about being a foster parent. We thought it over. It took us a couple of years, but we finally got around to doing it. That's really how we got into it."

"The kids we took in were younger. 'Out of diapers.' That was one of our requirements. Most of them were 8, 9, 10, 11. We did take a few teenagers once in a while when an emergency came up, but they were usually short-term. We always took long-term. We didn't feel that we could help them that much by being short-term. We just felt more comfortable with long-term where we could do something with them. We always took them on vacation with us. We took them everywhere we went. Otherwise, how could they feel like they were in a home? We we just took them everywhere."

"Most of them stayed with us two or three years. You never knew with the court system. Some would stay a while, and some wouldn't. One little boy was a heartbreaker when he left. We had him for about a year. It broke my heart when he had to leave. I still see him today. He's probably in his 40s now. That kid was a sweetheart."

Gale 'Butch' Sheehan was interviewed by Staff Writer Edward Husar and photographed by Photo Editor Phil Carlson.