BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Spike Barras is retired, but hardly resting. For years, he traveled the world, helping companies construct new factories, refineries and infrastructure. 9News found him at work at The Hospice of Baton Rouge, 9063 Siegen Lane.
When asked what exactly he does as a volunteer, Spike is hard put to come up with just one answer.
"Anything!” he exclaims. "Change lightbulbs. I work with some of the patients. I have built handicapped ramps."
Ask him how he's become the ultimate fix-it man, able to repair anything and he laughs, "You pick up a lot when you get old. If you live long enough."
Barras' volunteer work at Hospice began in 1999, when his father died. Spike saw the important services Hospice gives families struggling with dying relatives. He decided then and there he would add another volunteer job to his list. At that time, he volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul and its soup kitchen and a medical recycling organization, where he would pick up machines, repair them, and clean them for storage until someone needed them.
Spike said there are so many opportunities to help Hospice that the other volunteer jobs took second seat. People seem to marvel at Barras' gentle manner and expert craftsmanship.
Standing in a hallway in The Hospice of Baton Rouge's main office, Donna Britt asked, "Where'd you learn how to do woodworking?"They were looking at a beautiful wooden cubby-hole grid mounted on the wall and bearing the names of employees where notes and mail can be placed for pickup. Barras' said, "Well, we used to tear down houses when I was a child and use the lumber, take all the nails out, straighten 'em and build another house. So you just grow up doin' it."
When Britt looks for a place to sit down and talk further, they head outside. There's a sturdy picnic table, stained dark by rain that recently fell. A Hospice employee hands them manila folders to place on the seat before sitting and avoid getting wet.
"You're recycling?" Donna asked. The woman nods "yes". Spike gestures to the table, "This is a recycle right here." Donna exclaimed "Is it?" Spike answered, "This was a handicapped ramp.I tore it down after the patient died. And I said, ‘What do y'all wanta do with the lumber?' And they said "We'll just keep it until we get another patient." I said, ‘I don't think so!' Donna chuckled. "...so I made 'em a picnic table," Spike added.
Sitting at the picnic table with birds singing behind the Hospice HQ building, Donna asked why Barras would do what seems to be an emotionally difficult volunteer job: sitting with dying patients.
Spike answered earnestly that his philosophy is that everyone's life is a box. He said that the boxes are individual to the person, but when cancer or severe illness moves in those boxes close around people. "Little things bother people," he said. “ Like one gentleman. He was complaining about a couple of louvers broken on the door in the bedroom. And his wife said, ‘Don't pay any attention to him, he's just crabby!' I said, ‘No ma'am, he wants that fixed. This is within his "box" and if he can control that, he's gonna be happy'. So I took the door off, brought it home, fixed it and brought it back. And he was very happy."
You'd think that Spike's wife Miriam would miss him at home, because of the time he sometimes spends at the Hospice. But Miriam understands. She actually volunteers at Hospice too! Spike Barras said he'd like to issue a message to everyone, "Anybody can volunteer. they have lots to be done, lots to be done."