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Jim Hufford, a Senior Companion, enjoyed lunch earlier this month with one of his clients at the Northwind Grille in downtown Brainerd. For the past seven years, Hufford, 77, has helped older men who are living on their own tackle weekly errands. Photo by Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch.

From Brainerd Dispatch: Hufford is friend indeed

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By Kathi Nagorski

Brainerd Dispatch

Jim Hufford loves to fish -- although he doesn't go as much anymore - and he loves to garden.

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When he retired, he decided he needed something to fill his time during the winter months.

That's when Hufford, a 1948 graduate of Morris High School, became a godsend to the Lutheran Social Service Senior Companion Program in Brainerd. He answered a notice in the Brainerd Dispatch about volunteers needed to help seniors.

For the past seven years, Hufford, now 77, has assisted older men who are living on their own tackle weekly chores.

He currently works with seven men, all in their late 70s or older. His oldest client is 95. He meets with each person individually once a week for two to four hours.

The men come from diverse backgrounds.

One was an engineer. Another worked for the railroad.

One guy freely admits he was a hobo - riding the rails most of his life - and is now better off than he ever was, Hufford said.

Some can't see clearly. One is legally blind. Most can't hear well. None still drive.

Hufford serves as their eyes and ears and assists them with weekly tasks.

He tries to fulfill their wishes. Some want to go to the bank. Most need to go to the pharmacy and the grocery store. One simply wants to get out of the house and likes to go for a drive. Often Hufford has lunch together with his Senior Companions.

Sometimes all that is asked of him is to be someone to talk to.

What do they talk about?

"Politics is always a pretty popular subject - and the weather, of course," Hufford replied. Sports is another frequent topic of conversation.

Military service also is common ground. Many of these men are veterans as is Hufford, who served two years in the Army.

"Some have some pretty dramatic war stories to tell," Hufford said. "They've been all over the world. You gain knowledge just from that.

"I learn something from every one of them," Hufford said. "The whole idea of the program is to try to keep these guys living on their own. We do help a lot in that way."

Hufford said his volunteer work keeps him active and is something he enjoys.

"It's educational, I think," he said. "I've learned a lot from these guys. Almost all without exception are extremely grateful for what we do for them. If you're going to do something, you might as well do something worthwhile that's helping someone."

When he's not volunteering, Hufford enjoys spending time in his garden. He doesn't waste time with flowers though.

"If I can't eat it, I don't grow it," Hufford said.

He grows all kinds of vegetables and he has several fruit-bearing trees. He also grows raspberries.

Friends and family are rewarded with the bounty.

Another hobby for Hufford is reading.

Hufford and his wife, Peggy, together have five children - two from Jim's first marriage and three from Peggy's first marriage - and several grandchildren. Hufford's also close to his brother, Dick, who lives near the family farm in Morris, and Dick's sons, Jeff and Kirby. Hufford's aunt, Agatha DeBuhr, lives nearby in Alexandria.

The Huffords also have a cherished pet, a dog - Edgar Allan Pug.

Jim's first wife, Sandy, died more than 25 years ago from breast cancer. He's also buried a daughter, Wendy, who died as a result of multiple sclerosis at age 45.

Jane Erickson, Pequot Lakes, volunteer leader with Lutheran Social Service, said Hufford is invaluable as a Senior Companion.

"He's just so dedicated to helping these older men find some meaning in their lives, get out of the house and uplift their spirit," Erickson said. "He just loves doing it. He does just a great job."

Being a Senior Companion is not always fun and games. Hufford said he's become friends with many of the men. In the seven years he's been volunteering, he's witnessed a fair number die, including a guy he called "Izzy," who died this past summer at age 95.

They used to fish and garden together. They also enjoyed cooking sauerkraut and making jerky.

Hufford misses Izzy.

"He was a very good friend," Hufford said. "I've lost several over the years."

ABOUT JIM HUFFORD

Age: 77

Address: Rural Brainerd.

Work history: Retired radiology service engineer for 11 years at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd. He worked 20 years in the same field in the Twin Cities before moving to Brainerd.

Favorite vegetable: "Peas, maybe. I like a lot of vegetables - peas, cabbage, beans, corn."

Favorite author: Stephen King or John Sandford.

Most successful fishing lure: A green with black spots Rapala, like a frog. "I caught quite a few fish on that."

Favorite childhood memory: "I had a great childhood on the farm." He enjoyed family activities with aunts and uncles.

Favorite holiday movie? "A Christmas Story."

Top of your bucket list: Hufford said he's traveled quite a bit, but he's never been to Alaska. "I'd like to do that." And he's never been on an ocean cruise. "I'd like to do that once," he said.

Words to live by: "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you."

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