Retiree criss-crosses country to lend a hand where needed | SteamboatToday.com

Retiree criss-crosses country to lend a hand where needed

Mike McCollum

Bud Werner Memorial Library volunteer Judy Cole shelves books Friday on her last day of lending a hand at the library. Cole, who describes herself as a "vagabond volunteer," travels across the country with her husband, volunteering at each stop along their journey.

Bud Werner Memorial Library volunteer Judy Cole shelves books Friday on her last day of lending a hand at the library. Cole, who describes herself as a “vagabond volunteer,” travels across the country with her husband, volunteering at each stop along their journey.
Mike McCollum

Steamboat Springs — Judy Cole walked into the Bud Werner Memorial Library in July after cruising into town from Panama City Beach, Fla., with her husband Terry, looking to lend a hand. — Judy Cole walked into the Bud Werner Memorial Library in July after cruising into town from Panama City Beach, Fla., with her husband Terry, looking to lend a hand.

— Judy Cole walked into the Bud Werner Memorial Library in July after cruising into town from Panama City Beach, Fla., with her husband Terry, looking to lend a hand.

Life on the road, unfamiliar towns and new faces have been nothing new to the Coles since they retired five years ago – and began new careers as vagabond volunteers.

“We started out just camping and we’d spend two weeks in national parks in various places,” Judy Cole said. “Two-week stays are not long enough to volunteer much, other than cleaning up beaches. When we gradually started moving into off-season vacation rentals, I went into the local library in Panama City Beach and asked if I could help.”

Alison Lambert, the library’s youth services manager, said Cole couldn’t have walked into her life at a better time.

Recommended Stories For You

“It was amazing. I was literally sitting here one day stressed out thinking about how much I needed a volunteer,” she said. “And then in walks Judy and we absolutely put her to work.”

Cole, 64, said volunteering at libraries is perfect for a traveler like herself because there is no extensive training in assisting Lambert and youth services librarian Currie Meyer.

“I see myself as doing the unskilled labor to free up them, people with their expertise, to do the things they need to do,” she said. “I’m willing to do anything that makes it easier for them to do their jobs.”

In addition to stocking shelves, Cole helped prepare arts and crafts sessions, including a project that needed 40 rocks painted as animals.

“That was my first major craft project in probably 40 years,” she said. “Never in a million years would I have thought I’d have done something like that. It’s been fun and stretched me a bit beyond my comfort level.”

Cole said the job is also perfect for a traveler because it isn’t something where she’s involved personally with people that may disrupt their lives when she leaves. And leaving, Cole said, is something she and her husband have become well versed in during the past five years.

“We knew we weren’t going to stay in Kansas, and my husband wanted to travel because he did no traveling when he was younger,” she said. “We figured, well, we couldn’t maintain a home and travel. We weren’t sure how long the money would last, so we camped.”

In the third year of their retirement, they traveled through Steamboat on a trip through the Rocky Mountains.

“We came through here first on a trip to Dinosaur National Monument,” she said. “We stopped here at the grocery store to buy groceries, and we thought this would be a cool kind of place.”

The indefinite Cole road trip moves on next week as the couple plans to return to Florida. A trip to California may follow, but Cole said Steamboat will always be a fond memory.

“We loved it here. In the back of my mind, If we focus on places to stay once we stop rambling a bit, I would look here as one of those places where we’d come back to pretty regularly,” she said. “The library may not be seeing the last of me.”

– To reach Mike McCollum, call 871-4208

or e-mail mmccollum@steamboatpilot.com