He can’t get the girls anymore, but he has the dogs eating out of the palm of his hand
Phil Volk was born October 4, 1925. He is a proud 92 and never misses a day at the park doling out treats to the dogs, ducks, and birds. He gives hugs to the owners. He stands by the turtle, the mascot for the University of Maryland, at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, AZ.
Phil and the turtle
Phil arrives every morning at 7:30 a.m. at Fountain Hills Park with his side kick and best friend Kermit. Phil is 92 years old and Kermit is 82. His black leather designer bag hugging his left shoulder. He carries his “treats” inside the bag. He shuffles over to the turtle where the dogs are waiting impatiently for his arrival. The dogs tug at the leashes incessantly urging their owners to move towards Phil. Like children waiting for treats from the ice cream man. The dogs come in all sizes.
Linda wearing her black rim Ferragamo designer shades adorned with Swarovski crystals, and a floppy hat that makes her look like Ellie on the Beverly Hillbillies, comes running over with her dog Ted. Ted is a black and white Bichon/Shitzu mix with an under bite. Ted sports a colored Mohawk depending on the season. Orange for Halloween, red/pink for Christmas, and green for St. Patrick’s Day. Linda started walking around Fountain Park when there were no sidewalks in 1998.
Phil refers to Linda as “Peaches”.
“Your skin reminds me of the peaches that grew in my orchard when I was young”.
Linda says, “His smile warms my heart. Every time I see him my problems disappear.”
He greets Linda with a kiss on the lips, clasps his hands around her face and says, “You are a humdinger, be good, have fun, and enjoy life.”
I wear anything to keep me warm on the cold mornings, blue jeans, long sleeve shirt, padded vest, and a scarf. Ok, so I live in Fountain Hills, I still feel cold at 40F. Chloe my reddish colored, no tail, stubborn Cocker spaniel is pulling as hard as she can to get to Phil. It takes her thirty minutes to go halfway around the 1.5-mile trail around the park and only five minutes for the last half. She knows that Phil is up ahead and is loaded with snacks. He will feed Chloe the way kids feed the ducks. Nonstop.
I reach over gently, touch his arm, and whisper into his ear “No more snacks for Chloe”.
He smiles and says “OK”.
As soon as I turn my head, he slips more snacks to Chloe. He refers to me as “Professor”. I used to teach at ASU.
Ruth Ann, also dressed for the cold weather is holding on to Teddy. Teddy a red Golden Retriever has more manners than some of the other dogs. Ruth Ann and Teddy have the same color of hair, red. Ruth Ann says that Teddy is the one who dyes his hair not her. Phil greets her with a kiss on her cheeks. Kisses from Phil are harmless and have so much meaning. He lost his wife almost seven years ago. He really misses her.
All of the dogs wait patiently for Phil to hold out his hand and slip them a long- awaited treat. As soon as the treat disappears, they want another one. Appreciative owners help out by bringing bags of treats. Treats include bacon, chicken, and salmon flavored snacks.
Phil attended public schools in Baltimore, Maryland. Graduated from High School in 1944. Trained as a pilot in the Airforce from 1944-1946 during WWII. Never got a chance to fly because the war ended. His best memory is graduating from the University of Baltimore with an MBA and joining the third- generation family business of shoe design established by his Bavarian grand-grandparents. He held on to the business for 62 years. One of his proudest achievements. A peek into his closet reveals a collection of leather shoes that would make any female shoe connoisseur envious.
He met his wife in a choir in 1950. They both sang and were accomplished students at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. They were married for sixty-two years. One of his worst memories is the passing of his wife in 2010. Cancer was the cause.
Phil and his wife moved to Fountain Hills, AZ in 1994. He started going to the park every day to meet people. He walked around the park at least once. The park is 1.5 miles. He doesn’t walk the park now because he is not as stable. He worries about tripping and tumbling.
I ask him,” What makes you happy?” “Being with my friends, feeding the dogs, and waking up.”
He moved into an Independent Living facility near the park in 2016. He wasn’t sure it was a good decision. Now, he is satisfied and content. He spends his free time watching TV and taking naps.
“What is your secret for living so long?” “Work hard and be happy.”
My journey through life has been an incredible story. Everything I tried from childhood to adult life seemed to work out well. Starting with my early days. My parents were very loving people who guided me and to this day left me with loving memories. Along the way, I have met many wonderful people and I have many wonderful memories.
Phil grew up when times were different. No Internet, cell phones, computers, nor automatic cars. A picnic was a date. Money was scarce. Manners were strict. Mothers stayed home and had babies. The baby boom generation. Fathers went to work and brought home the money. That was their only responsibility. No babysitting, changing diapers, or cooking responsibilities. He tries to understand why things have changed. He is not shy about asking people what they think of politics today. “Why don’t more people fly the American flag? People should respect the president.” He doesn’t get into nasty arguments. His comments are more questions than answers. Your answer is respected.
Phil has a hearing problem. Everyone has to shout for him to hear or speak in his left ear. Hearing aids don’t work for him. He has tried many of them. He gets frustrated when he can’t understand what people are saying. We spend most of our time yelling, so he can hear us.
Kristi is a woman from Alaska. She is Phil’s favorite. Kristi met Phil in the summer of 2013.
She only comes about four times a year. The first time she met Phil she knew he needed some special loving.
“Hey, are you, new?” shouts Phil as a young woman with a blonde ponytail bobbing up and down walks by with her white Labradoodle, Ostin close to her side. He started out with the name Austin. The spelling got changed when her son went to elementary school and gave a report about his dog “Ostin”.
“Hello I’m Phil. I haven’t seen you around before”. The young woman shyly approaches Phil. Phil reaches out to Ostin and gives him a treat from his bag. Ostin barks for another one. Phil repeats the act three times. She will do anything to help him out. She calls him “darling”. He calls her “sweetheart”. Kristi is happily married. Phil tells her in jest “I will wait for you forever and if Dave (her husband) ever decides to trade you in I want to be the first to take his place”.
“How can anyone not love someone who truly loves dogs. He used to call me his Bay Watch girl. Phil just makes my heart smile. He’s who I think of when I think about Fountain Park!”
Kristy owner of “Ostin”
To get ahead in life you must have a good education and a lot of enthusiasm.
Phil’s best friend, Kermit stopped coming to the park with him. Phil was seen driving down the wrong side of the street and Kermit’s wife was notified. She will not allow him to ride with Phil anymore. Phil now stands alone feeding the dogs and the birds. His best friend no longer keeping him company at the turtle.
How long will Phil continue to come and feed the dogs at the park? As long as God permits him.