Volunteer of Year goes extra mile

Talbot Elementary School volunteer Jim Bigler helps out with the school’s “morning mile” on Thursday.

Published: Monday, January 19, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 11:44 p.m.

At 7 a.m. Thursday, the temperature hovered around 30 degrees and frost covered the field at Talbot Elementary School.

But dozens of bundled-up students were still walking and jogging around a quarter-mile track.

Volunteer Jim Bigler was there, too - like he is every morning - passing out straws to the children as they complete a lap and logging their totals after the school's "morning mile" run wraps up for the day.

Working as a Miami-Dade cop for more than 30 years, Bigler, 62, said he usually crossed paths with kids who had succumbed to bad influences and ended up on the wrong side of the law.

After he retired and his family moved to Gainesville, Bigler wanted to "approach things from the other side and start them off on the right foot."

Volunteering in the public school system was the natural choice since his son, Timothy, is a student at Talbot and his wife is a teacher at Glen Springs Elementary.

During the last three years, Bigler has been a classroom parent, a field trip chaperone and he has become a fixture as a volunteer at the school's daily "morning mile" student run.

He's spent so much time at the school that people - some of whom he doesn't always recognize - approach him at the movies or grocery store to say hi to "Timothy's dad."

Bigler's commitment to helping out at Talbot recently earned him the Alachua County School District award for Senior Volunteer of the Year.

"This is my sunshine," Talbot physical education teacher Margarita Schwiebert said of Bigler. "This man does everything. Whenever I ask, he's there."

Schwiebert, with the support of Talbot principal Brad Burklew, started the school's mile run four years ago.

In the completely voluntary program, school children show up at 7 a.m. - 45 minutes before the start of school - to walk or run.

On a usual day, 150 children show up early for the run, but the number was lower on that frigid day last week.

Bigler said he was drawn to volunteering at the morning mile because he grew up playing football, basketball and baseball and running track.

He said that showed him the positive effects of staying "busy all the time" instead of being idle.

"It was just a chance to give a little back. Because I'm not working, I have the time," he said. "I enjoy being around kids, and this promotes a healthy lifestyle."

Linda Meling, the volunteer coordinator at Talbot, said Bigler is there to help out during classroom events, field trips, teacher appreciation week and even just to pitch in "lifting and carrying things for us ladies."

"He was a great choice," Meling said. "And he has a wonderful sense of humor. He had no qualms about us announcing his age."

Bigler did point out that, at 62, he barely qualified for the senior category.

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