United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
87-Year-Old Veteran Volunteers 30 Hours a Week
WWII Veteran Charles Wilson received the James H. Parke Volunteer Award in 2009 for having over 20,000 volunteer hours at the VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan.
WWII Veteran Charles Wilson received the James H. Parke Volunteer Award in 2009 for having over 20,000 volunteer hours at the VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan.

Some know him as the "Popcorn Man." All know him as a friendly face they look forward to seeing.

At 87, Charles Wilson is a spry, cheerful World War II Veteran who arrives at 4:50 a.m. every morning to volunteer at his hometown VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan. Wilson has been a helping hand to VA patients and staff for the past 29 years.

In 1976, Wilson was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. After surgery, his doctors predicted that he would lose the use of his voice. "I wasn't supposed to be able to talk, but I surprised them," said Wilson.

The Veteran's successful recovery inspired him to start volunteering at the VA periodically, and he began working a regular 30-hour week in 1981.

"I wanted to give back because the VA did such a good job saving my life and it didn't cost me anything."

Just the Man for the Job

Working primarily as a patient escort, Wilson zips around on his Amigo electric cart delivering documents and snacks around the medical center. He often makes and delivers popcorn, earning him the nickname, "Popcorn Man."

Wilson enjoys his job and has fun driving the halls. "I get to go around and see all the pretty nurses" said Wilson with a chuckle. "It keeps my ego up."

His favorite part of the job is getting to see friendly, familiar faces around the VA. He also values the job as a good way to keep himself busy.

Patients and VA staff look forward to seeing Wilson's smiling face every day. Sometimes, he'll share some interesting tales about his time in World War II. He served in the U.S. Army field artillery in Germany and was just outside Berlin when German troops surrendered to the Allies.

"This Man is a Walking Miracle"

Wilson, nicknamed "The Popcorn Man," arrives at 4:50 a.m. daily to make fresh coffee and popcorn.
Wilson, nicknamed "The Popcorn Man," arrives at 4:50 a.m. daily to make fresh coffee and popcorn.

Carrie Seward, VA Voluntary Services Manager in Saginaw, calls Wilson a "walking miracle." In addition to his unexpected recovery from cancer, Wilson had two strokes, but went straight back to work once he recovered.

"Charlie comes to work in all weather. We get a good share of snow here, but he still makes it into work every morning," said Seward.

Wilson's six-hour daily schedule is not his only weekly commitment. He is an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1859 and is part of the Honor Guard for local military funerals.

Wilson, whose wife is deceased, lives on his own, completely independent. "I'm still in charge of all my housework — I do my own laundry," he stated with pride.

Last summer, Governor Jennifer Granholm gave a special commendation to Wilson when he reached 22,000 hours of volunteer time. He is now up to 23,500 and counting.

"If anyone is interested in volunteering at the VA, I'd tell them to check it out and be sensible. You've got to commit to it, but it's a good thing to do."

By Megan Tyson, VA Staff Writer