Volunteers nearing 20 years of pumping gas for seniors in Albion

Photos by Tom Rivers: This group was out this morning with temperatures in the teens pumping gas for people at the Crosby’s at the corner of routes 98 and 31. Pictured from left include Gary Westlund, Gary Kent, Phil Brady and Tim Tierney.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 February 2023 at 2:55 pm

ALBION – A dedicated group of volunteers is nearing 20 years of pumping gas for free at the Crosby’s in Albion at the corner of routes 98 and 31.

The gas pumpers are there on Wednesdays from 9 to 11 a.m., and they are there in snow storms, bitter cold and punishing heat.

Besides pumping the gas, the volunteers will walk the customer’s cash inside to pay the bill. The group even offers a discount on the gas, with the 10 cents off per gallon paid by the Albion Betterment Committee. Many people decline the discount and that money, usually 50 cents to $1, is donated to PAWS Animal Shelter. Some of the customers also will chip in extra for PAWS.

The Betterment Committee is recent years has donated about $800 annually to PAWS through the donations or declined discounts from gas pumping.

Phil Brady pumps gas for a Crosby’s customer this morning. Brady has been volunteering on Wednesday mornings for about five years.

Gary Kent, one of the Betterment Committee directors, pushed to start the gas pumping back in 2004. He was looking for ways to make the community more senior-friendly.

Many regulars come on Wednesdays, even those with nearly full tanks. They like to see the group of volunteers, and they appreciate not having to step outside in the cold I the winter or the heat during the summer.

“I don’t mind helping out the community,” said Phil Brady, who has been coming most Wednesdays the past five years. “It’s a nice way of giving back.”

Many people still don’t know about the gas pumping volunteers, and the discounts on Wednesday mornings, Brady said. There are people every week who are surprised when the volunteers step forward offering to pump the gas or walk the cash to the store.

Tim Tierney retired in 2015 after a career as a civilian employee at the Orleans and Albion correctional facilities. He started volunteering with gas pumping in 2016. He is there about 80 percent of the Wednesdays.

“You get a lot of people who are happy,” Tierney said about the motorists. “They appreciate not having to get out of their cars and pump the gas or swipe their cards.”

Today in the bitter cold, the volunteers offered to pump gas for younger drivers, especially if they didn’t have on gloves or a hat.

Gary Westlund drives about 40 minutes from near North Chili to be there on Wednesdays to pump gas. Westlund, a former Albion resident, welcomes the chance to be with his buddies – the other gas pumping volunteers.

He has been very reliable on Wednesdays for about 15 years.

Westlund, a retiree from Rochester Products (General Motors), said there are many regulars who come on Wednesdays for a fill-up, even if they didn’t drive much in the past week.

He knows many people look froward to seeing a friendly face on Wednesdays.

Gary Kent, one of the directors with the Albion Betterment Committee, said he appreciates the dedicated group who shows up regardless of the weather on Wednesdays to pump gas.

Westlund was recruited by Kent to be part of the gas pumping team. The two like to joke with each other throughout the morning. They met playing softball together.

“He couldn’t hit a lick but he was a pretty good outfielder,” Kent said, needling Westlund. Kent is a retired Kendall social studies teacher who also coached the varsity baseball team.

Kent laughed when he recalled last summer going up to a car but the driver requested Westlund handle the gas pumping. Westlund likes to wear shorts during the warm weather.

“She told me I don’t want you, I want the one with the nice legs,” Kent recalled this morning, laughing.

Kent said Clarence Winkelmann, Joe Gehl and Mike Wright also have been steady volunteers in recent years at the gas pumps.