Making a Difference: Janesville senior still stepping up to help

Published: Mar. 22, 2019 at 8:24 PM CDT
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In a place where most his age come to heal, Sal Perce comes to help.

You'll find Sal at his volunteer post every Wednesday morning at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville. He helps push wheelchairs, gives directions, delivers flowers, and assists at the valet stand.

The Army veteran, retired from the Chicago Transit Authority, lost his wife Mary Lou nine years ago, and says volunteering at the hospital and being around other people helps him pass the time.

Sal said, "I like finding people I can talk to, help them with whatever it is. I find it refreshing. Sometimes when I don't get my relief" (the next volunteer doesn't show up) "I'll stay around an extra hour or so. It doesn't matter to me. I enjoy being here.”

Toni Anderson works at the information desk next to Sal. She told us, "I love Sal. He should be an inspiration to us all. He has more energy than most middle-aged people. He loves to be here every Wednesday, and people look forward to working with Sal. He would do anything you needed him to. He's here to help.”

It’s not the first time Sal has stepped up to volunteer. The World War II veteran spent 3-1/2 years in the U.S. Army, most of it serving in the South Pacific. He traveled thousands of miles by ship during the war. With a laugh, he said, "I put in a lot of mileage at sea. I didn't know if I was going to be discharged from the Army or the Navy."

Service runs in Sal’s family. All five of his brothers also served in WWII. His brother Joe was killed in combat, and his brother John was wounded.

All these years later, Sal’s still volunteering and helping others—people who are pretty surprised when they hear his age. Sal said, "It's surprising how many people will approach you...especially when they hear my age." Sal Perce is 98-years-old. Anderson joked, “He has outlived most of his doctors.” She added, "People are usually pretty impressed when they find out Sal's age. He definitely does not look to be his age."

Sal laughed when he said, "My kid brother's 94." (He really is). Sal added, "I see my doctor once a year and that's it. Then he tells me: ‘I have to go see my sick people.’"

While we were there in the St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville lobby, a few admirers came up to take selfies with Sal, astonished at his age and how great he looks. In fact, Sal spends much of his volunteer shift pushing people much younger than he in wheelchairs, and he stands all four hours of his shift. “I never sit down…and my feet are just fine.”

Sal Perce is not only still standing, he’s still serving…all of these years later. He said, “You’re never too old. There's always something you can do. I enjoy being here.”