Times Bulletin Staff Writer
VAN WERT -- There are very few hours when the Salvation Army Thrift Store on South Washington Street is open that the figure of a hard-working man in a white T-shirt can’t be found unloading boxes of books or clothing.
Bill Reidenbach has spent much of his life either doing janitorial work or volunteering his services at consignment non-profit stores. More often than not, Reidenbach can be found sorting books and placing them in an orderly manner on shelves.
“I like to go through all of the boxes and bags and sort things out, then put them in order,” said Reidenbach, who finds total satisfaction in helping others. “If I organize things, it makes things go faster for everyone else,” observed Reidenbach. “I love to sort out books. I really like finding history books. I’m amazed at what I find sometimes. In one box, I came across a collector’s map from 1924.”
When asked why he is such a diligent worker, Reidenbach replied, “It keeps me alive. A lot of times I only last about three hours.”
Reidenbach has spent much of his life fighting symptoms and complications from a brain injury that occurred when he was accidentally hit in the head by a brick when he was 12-years-old. These days, Reidenbach said that he can’t thank those enough who helped him along the way.
Much of his commitment to volunteering to the local Salvation Army these days is in gratefulness for those who have helped him and to the Salvation Army personally for its assistance in his home when he was a young boy.
“When I was a kid we wouldn’t have had a Christmas tree if it wouldn’t have been for the Salvation Army,” said Reidenbach with tenderness in his voice. “We didn’t have a tree and the Salvation Army gave us a tree that we could sit on a card table.”
Reidenbach was raised in Convoy, but moved to Lima when he was 18-years-old. For 32 years, he worked as custodian in a Lima restaurant. He also served as a janitor in a Lima area church. He noted that there were times when his body would be so weak and broken that he would have to crawl into his work place.
“I am getting weaker and a doctor told me that my body is wearing down,” said Reidenbach. “That’s when I decided to come back here (Van Wert) from Lima, in case something happens to me.”
While he lived in Lima, Reidenbach spent his time volunteering at their Salvation Army store, various thrift stores and various neighborhood relief stores. In addition, he has worked diligently assisting with Boy and Girl Scout groups by collecting store coupons for the two groups.
Reidenbach said that much of his volunteer efforts at thrift stores began when he asked to clean up the various book sections. He noted that one of his pet peeves over the years has been messy book sections.
“I would stop and ask them if I could organize their book section for them,” said Reidenbach. “Ever since my injury, I’ve had this desire to organize things. I would get confused since I had my head injury; I wanted to make it easier for me to find things and I felt like others would appreciate that, too.
“I am really fascinated by history, post cards and books,” noted Reidenbach. “I have post cards with victory stamps. It’s amazing what you find sometimes in going through sacks and boxes.”
Reidenbach said that he really enjoys finding things in clothing that represent that person in some way. He cited the example of one person’s coat that had church bulletins folded in it.
“For some reason, when I saw those bulletins I said, ‘oh boy,’ and tears started running down my cheeks. It just really got to me,” observed Reidenbach. Outside the thrift shop volunteering, Reidenbach’s life is no less active. He likes to take elderly individuals to pick up their medications or to doctor’s appointments. “Bill first started by coming in to organize books,” observed Janet Bell, who manages the story. “He knows good stuff that is worth something. If he doesn’t he looks it up.
“He takes time to do things we don’t have time for,” continued Bell. “I’ve seen him get down on his hands and knees and scrub stuff. He’s a very humble man.”
“I’ve gone through so much, I like to do what I can to help make other people’s lives a little more comfortable,” noted Reidenbach. “I love to do all I can to make people’s lives happier, even outside this place. “People have been good to me. I will never forget something like that,” observed Reidenbach. “I was always taught to return what was given to you.”