SALT LAKE CITY — Ray Salazar, a St. Olaf parishioner, has made charity a way of life. The retired Air Force civilian police officer dedicates several days a week to service at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Recently, he was one of four volunteers featured on a flyer put out by the VA hospital.
“Ray is amazing,” said Christopher Scott, chief of voluntary services at the hospital. “His gift to our veterans is priceless. He always has an amazing attitude. He always is caring and concerned. Beyond volunteering, he works with the Knights of Columbus and helps put together donations for our facility and for our veterans. He volunteers not just with VA directly but in support of vets indirectly.”
In fact, Salazar’s position at the VA hospital grew out of his service as a Knight of Columbus. The Deputy Grand Knight of the St. Olaf Council, he helped with a service project his council participated in five years ago when the Knights were asked to fill holiday thank-you bags and deliver them to veterans at the hospital. Salazar was struck by the dignity and great need for assistance that these people who had served their country have, so it was easy for him to agree to continue his service there.
Now Salazar puts in three four-hour shifts each week at the hospital and often devotes more hours when needed. He and other volunteers move patients in wheelchairs, beds and gurneys around the hospital’s clinics, picking up and delivering lab work as they go.
Salazar, who served five years of active duty in the Air Force, finds great fulfillment in giving back to others he considers his comrades in arms.
“My biggest regret is that I didn’t find out about this until I had retired a number of years,” he said.
Salazar finds it heart-wrenching that many of the patients are homeless or have been abandoned or taken advantage of by their families. Often the only caretakers they have are their wives.
“’What’s going to happen when the wife of the 75-year-old veteran dies; who is going to take care of him?’ I often worry,” he said.
Salazar’s parents were both always actively involved in the community, and taught him to be charitable, he said. His grandfather was a WWI vet, and Salazar says he is “only giving back” with the time he devotes at the VA, adding that he loves being around the veterans and hearing the stories they share of the many conflicts in which they served.
When all the volunteer service at the hospital was suspended for a year during the pandemic, it was difficult, Salazar said, so after he was vaccinated he was happy to return to work there in February 2021.
A divorced father of two grown sons and grandfather of five, Salazar is active with his Knights of Columbus council, which also is very involved with the VA hospital. Prior to the pandemic, they regularly provided meals at Fisher House, which offers housing for families and caregivers of veterans and service members receiving treatment at the hospital. As they wait to be allowed to do that again once the pandemic is over, they collect funds to purchase gift cards to donate to the program. Council members also clean the headstones of veterans buried at Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery.
Along with these volunteer positions, Salazar serves on the Diocesan Scouting Committee and officiates girls fastpitch softball.
“Ray is dedicated to his Catholic faith,” said Joe Nesi, St. Olaf Council Grand Knight. “As a Knight, he is my right-hand man. I know I can count on Ray whenever we do anything. Ray is also a dedicated softball umpire and fan of baseball.”
Salazar encourages others to donate some time at the VA where they have a particularly serious need for golf cart drivers, he said. Many of those who volunteered there prior to the pandemic were senior citizens who have not returned, Salazar said.
“They always need help at the VA,” he said. “I could volunteer there five days a week, eight-hour days. It makes me feel good giving back.”