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Gilbert cancer center volunteer retires on his 93rd birthday

(KTAR News/Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX — Most people in their 90s are no longer working and are enjoying a long-earned rest.

But not 93-year-old Bob Gerlach, who has spent the last eight years helping patients as a volunteer for Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert.

“It just seemed like something I should do,” Gerlach said about why he started volunteering in 2011.

He has spent the last several years showing new patients around the hospital, helping them with paperwork and taking them to their appointments. He has also answered their questions, and he said has strived to make the hospital “a home away from home.”

“It’s a tough thing to come here to the hospital,” he said. “We have to realize that they need somebody to support them. And having been a cancer survivor myself, I know what it’s all about.”

Tuesday was Gerlach’s last day as a volunteer for Banner. It was also his 93rd birthday. Hospital staff, former patients and fellow volunteers honored him with a celebration and a cake at the start of his last shift.

Angie Wiebler, volunteer program supervisor for Banner, said Gerlach is going to be missed. She said his history with cancer draws patients to him. He’s a colon cancer survivor and a prostate cancer survivor.

“When he says I’ve actually been there, the patients know that he has actually been there,” she said. “And he just mentors them through everything he does.”

Gerlach has also gained the admiration from other volunteers, including Bill Ctibor, who said Gerlach could be home resting and watching television.

“Yet, here he is helping people much younger, taking them everywhere in the building,” he said.

Ctibor said the 93-year-old has also provided comfort for patients who’ve just been diagnosed with cancer and are scared.

“This place can be extremely stressful for a lot of people,” he said. “Bob is one person that has the ability to calm people down, to make them feel more comfortable and to put them at ease.”

Even though Gerlach is retiring, he’s not done yet. He plans to keep going back to the hospital from time to time because he said, “There’s a lot of satisfaction of being able to give something back.”

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