Where are you from?
I am originally from a little town in Minnesota – St. Michael, Minnesota. I left that community when I was around 19 and lived in different parts of the country. I grew up on a farm.
How long have you been in Tucson?
I am going on my 13th year in Tucson.
What brought you to Tucson?
My wife always wanted to live in the desert, and her sister lived in Tucson so we would visit a couple times and we really liked the area.
How long have you been retired?
I retired in 2007 – 13 years.
How has retirement been for you?
When I retired I didn’t see myself playing golf or doing a lot of the things that people dream about doing. I really didn’t know what I was going to do, actually. So when I became familiar with No More Deaths and what was going on in the border I jumped into it with both feet.
No More Deaths
How long have you been a volunteer with NMD?
When we had just moved to Tucson, I had no idea of the number of deaths going on in the border. So one of our neighbors invited us to go to a No More Deaths meeting and ever since then we’ve been a part of the group.
Do you (or have you) done other volunteering? With what organizations?
The northern Mexico projects – I go to Altar once a month with other volunteers and work with shelters, I’ve been doing that for the past 6 years. I work with volunteers, gather supplies, donations, with leaders of local shelters and Samaritans.
What work does NMD do?
The mission of No More Deaths is to end death and suffering on the Mexico-USA border. One of the first things we started was walking the desert trails to put water out, which is something we still do. We do a lot of work on the west side of the desert- 30% of deaths occur there. Besides providing humanitarian aid, we began to do something called abuse-documentation due to people reporting how badly they were treated in short-term custody. We help with a free clinic in Tucson – Keep Tucson Together – and a Missing Migrant hotline, to help keep people out of detention centers. We also do donations, camps.
Can you tell a bit of history about NMD?
A lot of desert-aide work, walking out on the trails – mobile camps, humanitarian aid. Search and rescue. It has gotten much bigger, it used to be just desert-aid and work in Nogales, but we’ve developed many new services, like the Keep Tucson Together clinic. When we first started we had a budget of about $100k or less, now our budget is around $1 million. We’ve gone from all volunteers to now hiring staff to handle whatever the volunteers can’t. We’ve expanded mostly all along the desert.
What part of NMD work interests you most? Why?
I used to be in the desert quite a bit – but that changed for me, I don’t tolerate the heat as much – so we attract a lot of people that volunteer in the desert. But I am part of all the different branches of services that we do, like traveling with donations.
What attracted you to volunteering with NMD?
My parents always believed in looking out for our neighbors, so that translated for me into mostly working in the service fields – like education and mental health. When we did part of our training and we went out to the field, we had an experience with a man who was around 40 years old who had been left in a ditch for about two-three days with no food and water- I couldn’t believe what I had just experienced, it feels unreal. It was my first major awareness that something awful was happening in our beautiful desert.
What are the biggest issues NMD is addressing right now?
The detention centers with COVID is a big part right now. We also do a lot of focus on bonds – the KTT – the leadership legal clinic. We had a GoFundMe effort where we raised $40k for migrants. We are also in the processes of putting a newspaper out. We are mainly devoted to trying to raise money, providing medical attention, water banks, bus tickets… We are always working on all fronts and areas.
How safe do you feel travelling in Mexico?
I’ve been doing it for about 7 years and I have never felt unsafe travelling in Mexico- although we do hear stories about people who get stopped and such things, I feel safe.
Any problems crossing back and forth with donations?
Whenever I get stopped at the red light to have my car checked with supplies I let them know it is for the migrants. I fill up my car with supplies like rice and beans, canned goods, medical supplies and I let them know it is for the Casa Migrante, which they are always grateful for. But with COVID, the last trip I made was in March.
Any recommendations for people wanting to stay engaged in retirement?
It took me about 2-3 years to let go of the work I had done before – but the beauty of retirement is that you can choose to do almost anything you want, and I think one of the things that is clear for me is giving back. And like the Buddha likes to say, do no harm and benefit others if you can – that’s what I think it’s all about. Certainly have fun and do the things you enjoy doing in life and take a lot of volunteering opportunities.
How can people support NMD?
We have brochures with information, we take donations, and we have our website- NoMoreDeaths.org
People can support with financial donations, clothing donations – like gently worn sneakers, jeans, hiking gear, smaller sizes are preferable – medical supplies, canned goods, and such.