David Morrison and the Satisfaction of Volunteerism

Channing House resident David Morrison understands the concept of volunteerism as well as anyone. A native of Pennsylvania, David’s energy and volunteer spirit have been a gift to his adopted state of California for many years.

Alcatraz prison island in bay of San Francisco, California, US

David, who grew up on a dairy farm three miles from the Ohio border, found his way out to California shortly after graduate school. “I received a master’s degree in computer science which, in those days, was a new kind of thing,” says David. “Then I was offered a job. It was always, you either go to California or New York. I already knew about the east and the snow and mud, so I had to try California. It was the glamorous place to go.”

It was after his move to California that David first developed his sense of volunteerism. “When I was younger,” he says, “I lived in Palo Alto for many years. I married, had kids, and coached Little League and soccer — typical kinds of things.”

After a divorce, David met and married his wife, Karen. “We moved to the mountains above Redwood City in the San Francisco Bay area,” he recalls. “On the mountain, volunteering was a bit different than down in the flatland. On the mountain, one of the big organizations was this wonderful art fair that happens every Labor Day weekend. I got very involved in that. When we first moved there, our next-door neighbor, who I came to love like a dad, started on me right away about this art fair and how great it was. So, I finally said, ‘Karen and I will serve burgers for a couple of hours.’ It was so much fun that, before too many years, I was running the place.” David adds quickly, “The food shack only.”

But for him, that was only the beginning. “There was a homeowner’s association up there on the mountain,” he says. “That term is overkill for what it really was, but it was sort of like one. And there was a volunteer fire department, important given all the trees. I served on the boards of both of those.”

After retirement is when David’s volunteer spirit truly began to kick in. “I became involved as a docent at Alcatraz,” he says, “and over at the Oakland Museum of California History. I’ve since stopped the Oakland Museum part because they’re sort of reorganizing now. I might get back to it at some point because I’ve always loved that museum.”

But for David, it’s clear Alcatraz, or “The Rock” as it’s known because of its island location in the middle of San Francisco Bay, captures his imagination. “I’ve been a docent there since 2008,” he says. “Alcatraz is just so special. It’s a national park. There’s also an urban National Park in San Francisco on the end of the peninsula where the old army base, The Presidio, used to be. The park consists of The Presidio and some other properties down the peninsula. Alcatraz is part of that park — the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.” With a twinkle in his eyes David adds, “And, yes. You have to take a breath in the middle of that.”

Unfortunately, medical issues led David to the conclusion it might be time for Karen and him to consider a lifestyle change. “When you reach your 70s,” he says, “and you have a few things that might land you in the hospital which is 40 minutes away, you start thinking about that. I started saying we have to make a move. So, we started exploring. We had a long history at Channing House because Karen’s mother had lived here for about 24 years. It was kind of pre-ordained we’d end up here.”

David and Karen moved to Channing House in December of 2018, which only added to David’s spirit of volunteerism. “When we first moved to Channing House,” David says, “I planned on continuing at the museum and Alcatraz. I kept up at Alcatraz, except that this year, because of over-commitment at Channing House, I had to take a break. Talk about volunteering for things. It’s very easy to do that here.”

So how does David feel about the move to Channing House? “It’s a wonderful place,” he says. “We have a lot of Stanford grads here. A lot of doctors and lawyers and successful businesspeople. And then there are sort of working stiffs like me and my wife.“

“But,” David adds with a laugh, “we‘ve managed to get along with those other folks too.”

David’s spirit of volunteerism has been put to good use since moving to Channing House, where he’s had an opportunity to utilize his technical skills. “Somehow or other I got involved as the ‘AV guy,’” he says. “I’m on the AV team here. Every week we’ve got lectures or concerts in the auditorium or someplace else in the building, so I do a lot of that kind of support to help make those events happen. It’s a nice combination of things that allows me to utilize my technical background, but it’s human-oriented.”

David has also brought his technical skill set to the Palo Alto church he and Karen belong to, as well as a local men’s club, where he sets up Zoom services and meetings. David does the same for speakers brought to Channing House by a fellow resident, George, an emeritus member of Stanford’s Hoover Institute.

David’s volunteerism seems to come naturally. But what does he get out of it? “I think I can answer that fairly simply,” he says. “It makes me feel like I’m contributing. Like I’m doing something worthwhile for other people.”

David’s correct. It really is simple. And boy could we use a lot more people with the enthusiasm and volunteer spirit of David Morrison.

If you’d like to see for yourself what makes Channing House the amazing community it is and why so many of our residents follow David’s volunteerism path, call 650-529-4871 to schedule your personal tour.

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