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Longtime resident named Distinguished Senior Man

Updated 9:23 am, Monday, June 10, 2013
  • Robert F. Witt receiving the Distinguished Senior Man Award from President S. Joel Pelzner at the Senior Menís Club of New Canaan Annual Meeting and Luncheon. Photo: Contributed
    Robert F. Witt receiving the Distinguished Senior Man Award from President S. Joel Pelzner at the Senior Menís Club of New Canaan Annual Meeting and Luncheon. Photo: Contributed

 

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Longtime resident Bob Witt was bestowed with the honor of Distinguished Senior Man by the Senior Men's Club of New Canaan at its annual meeting May 10.

Witt is the president of Getabout and formerly of the Senior Men's Club and one of the original board members of Staying Put.

A New Canaan resident for 43 years, it's only since his retirement from the advertising industry in 1997 that Witt became especially involved in town life. "Like most people, I was out at seven in the morning, back at seven at night; my wife was the only one who knew people in town. When I retired, she kicked me out of the house and said I had to get involved."

And get involved he did. Over 10 years, he and the other members of Getabout, the service that offers rides to elderly and disabled New Canaan residents, grew the organization from one driver in a van to five vans and a dispatcher. In 2012, Getabout offered more than 10,000 rides to grocery stores, doctors' offices, movies, shopping centers and local events for a suggested donation of $3 per ride. The service allows older folks to stay active outside of their homes without relying on friends or family.

"It's a little bit of payback," Witt explained, recalling one case in particular that gave him a sense of pride. "Two twin boys had special needs and used the Getabout when they were much younger. It was a key part of their lives to get around the community."

Other community members respect the work Witt has put in for New Canaan. Town Council member Penny Young, who works on many fronts for senior residents, has known Witt for 35 years and used to be his neighbor.

"He is very committed to that effort (Getabout), as he is in the provision of services for the older members of town," she said. "He's just an upstanding member of the community."

His experience in the advertising industry has parlayed nicely into some of his volunteer activities.

"When I write grant proposals, you have to give a rationale as to why you're deserving," he said. "I spent a career in advertising writing proposals for programs, so it's a natural fit. I can sit behind a computer and knock out a grant app in three or four hours."

It was his leadership with Getabout that made him a prime target for the initial board of directors of Staying Put, the organization for senior residents designed to make aging in one's home and community an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.

"He is a very patient, gentle person to work with. He's just the nicest soul," Staying Put Executive Director Jane Nyce said.

"He was a wonderful liaison between the two organizations (Staying Put and Getabout). He's also volunteered with us and was a donor. He's been incredibly supportive of us and offered a lot of very solid wisdom."

At the Senior Men's Club, Witt's involvement has resulted in more adventurous trips. He organized the first trip outside the country -- to the Canadian Rockies -- as well as a two-week sojourn to some of the nation's national parks. He said he's working on a trip to Europe for the group for next year.

"He is terrific to work with," said outgoing club president Joel Pelzner. "He's very eager to jump in, very free with his time, and encouraging to those he works with. He's just a pleasure and a joy."

Witt highlighted how important it is for seniors' health to remain active and social.

He seems to take the word "getabout" to heart, as he and his wife, Ruth, have traveled all over the world in recent years. "We always seem to be ahead of the riots," he said of trips in recent years to Turkey, Israel and Cairo, Egypt. The pair has also been to Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Antarctica.

He took time to reflect on what the recognition from the Senior Men's Club meant to him.

"It's a terrific honor. I hope I can continue to have the energy to do it."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews