Time to Give Back
By Brad McEwen
While there are a great many Albany area residents who I consider delightful people, few are able to put a smile on my face as often, and as quickly, as Chuck Darsey.
Whether it’s bumping into him at the bank, a civic meeting or up at the elementary school where my wife Tay and his wife Cris spend their weekdays, I’ve never met Chuck where he didn’t have a kind word and a quick smile guaranteed to brighten my day.
And I suspect he’s that way with just about every other person he encounters.
Fortunately for the greater Albany community—and especially the teachers and students at Lake Park Elementary—the opportunity to see Chuck’s smiling face and spend a little time talking about the joys of life is a little more frequent now that he’s eased into retirement, having sold the Darsey Oil Company business his father C. Hershel Darsey started in 1952 to Dilmar Oil in late to 2015.
In fact, it was that decision—made after God woke him up one morning telling him that despite having no deal offered it was time to the sell the business he’d spent roughly 30 years running—which gave me my first opportunity to interview Chuck and get a real taste for the kindness and deep faith that are such a strong part of who he is.
“One Saturday morning I had a vision from God,” Chuck told me of his leap of faith to finally sell the family business. “He assured me he’d take of it.”
Not only did God take care of the sale—as well as getting Chuck through a couple of years with Dilmar to ensure a smooth transition for the company and staff—He has continued to guide Chuck’s heart in retirement.
“I think you work all your life, then when you have the chance to retire, and you’ve made preparations along the way, it’s just about giving back,” Chuck told me when we got together recently for a Beyond the Bank interview. “The community has given so much to us over the years, so it’s time to give back.”
That Chuck would see his newfound availability as an opportunity to give back to the community isn’t surprising, given the lessons he learned from his parents—who raised Chuck, his brother Boyd and his sister Maelu as Christians and stressed the importance of giving.
“All of us had a drug problem,” Chuck said with his trademark humor. “We were drug to church. We learned the philosophy of John Wesley of ‘make as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can.’
“I remember anything that we got, we had to divide it into savings, giving and spending. I think that’s the foundation of it. And even when Cris and I got together, her folks were of the same philosophy, so we didn’t have a problem giving to the church. And our kids grew up in the church.
“It’s time now to give back.”
In Chuck’s case, giving back has taken on various forms, including continuing to make himself available to do certain mission work, which is something he got involved with even before retirement.
“I’ve been to Uganda, Nicaragua, to the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Mississippi, and I think that’s it,” Chuck said of the mission work he’s done at home and abroad. “That’s when you find out that we are absolutely blessed beyond belief.”
Chuck said being involved in those mission trips was a humbling experience and that they gave him an important perspective about what he believes are the truly important things in life—things he thinks we often lose sight of in our society.
“What’s so interesting is when you’re in Uganda, or Honduras, those folks are blessed beyond belief too because that’s all they know,” Chuck explained. “There may be something out there that’s better than what we know, I don’t know. Heaven is. But when I was in Uganda and we were working with kids and adults re-mudding their huts, RE-MUDDING THEM, golly bum, I asked a kid probably 18 years old, ‘What’s your dream?’ And he goes, ‘I just wanna make it to the paved road.’ “He’d never seen the paved road that was about 30 miles away.
“But these kids had on clean, ironed clothes every day. They loved, they were educated, they were smart, they were fun to be around.
“The last one I went on, we were well drilling for the church [Porterfield Memorial United Methodist Church] through Living Waters and when we set up camp there to start drilling, these people were used to going to the river, or to the cow hole,” Chuck continued. “You see pictures on TV of the kids with the jerrycan on their heads, who got up at 4 a.m. to walk down to get that nasty water, and walk back so they can attend school for a half day because they’ve gotta go back and do it again—and milk the cows and the goats—and they’re happy. That’s all they know.
“When we give them water, oh my gosh! That water comes out, oh boy, everybody in the community starts crying. It’s awesome. Fresh water. That is truly an amazing experience.
“You’re giving them true water and you’re giving them living water.
“What it did for me was it loosened my strings on stuff. We don’t have to have all that stuff—stuff that we have to go in debt for. We don’t need that stuff. As long as you’ve got enough and as long as you give enough away, then life is good. And God says, “Thank you.”
Although he understands what things in life have real value, Chuck said he has always believed it’s important to have respect for money and to be prudent with finances—which is something his parents instilled in their children and that he tries to instill in others. In fact, another way in which Chuck gives back is by teaching a financial responsibility class at Porterfield.
“I teach my Dave Ramsey class,” Chuck said. “Financial Peace University.
“The average car debt is $30,600. We have $1.07 trillion of car debt in America and we’ve stretched out the car payments from 73 months to 84 months. The average car payment’s $506. If a guy 30 years old put $506 a month in a mutual fund at 10%, when he’s 70, how much money is he going to have? $5 million. Now I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box, I’m definitely not, and I’ve made many, many mistakes, but I’m thankful for what my folks taught us and showed us.
“I talk to people in my Dave Ramsey class and it’s so sad. It’s doesn’t matter if there’re 30 or 60, they don’t know where the next payment’s coming from. And I’m going, ‘Oh man.’ So what we try to do there is to lift that burden, ‘Pay your debts off. Stop spending money and pay this debt off, then you’re gonna get that freedom you’ve been looking for. And never, never, never, never, never, never, go back in debt.’ Get out of debt, stay out of debt. There’s plenty of place for debt, like mortgages, but for the average person, stay out of debt—credit card debt.”
Because he heeded lessons about being frugal and saving for the future, Chuck believes he’s now in a position where he has enough financial stability to not only retire, but to use that time in to help others, even if that help is just a small thing.
“You don’t necessarily have to go abroad to do missions,” he said. “Mission is right here, helping a friend. Like, ‘Hey, I need three hands tomorrow, can you help me?’ ‘Sure.’ What happens in every walk of life is you surround yourself with like people and now we’re surrounded with like people who are mission-minded—whether it’s here, there or yonder.”
The key, Chuck said, is to always be available to help when and where you can.
“A friend of mine has a house in Mexico Beach,” Chuck explained. “He’s in a wheelchair but he needs to take $3,500 down there to a guy tomorrow for some thing or another. So, I said, ‘Let’s go to Mexico Beach tomorrow.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I have to lay down in the car and my van’s messed up.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll call a buddy and me and him’ll go.’
“So we’re leaving at 8 in the morning, taking $3,500 down to (a guy) for a job and then driving back to Albany. And I’ll have a blast doing it. It’s just something fun to do and that’s a mission because you’re helping somebody else who can’t do it.
“So, it doesn’t matter where they are or what the circumstances are, just be available.”
Thanks to his new-found availability, Chuck has also spent a good bit of his recent retirement helping in an area where he believes he’s really needed—volunteering at Lake Park Elementary, where Cris is the office manager.
In recent weeks Chuck said he’s made it a regular thing to volunteer at the school, where he firmly believes that the teachers and staff need all the help, and “TLC” they can get because of the incredible, and often undervalued, effort they pour into educating our children.
“One of the teachers came up to Cris the other day and said, ‘I’m gonna be gone from 11:30 to 2. Can Chuck come in and be in my class next week?’ I said, ‘Okay, yeah,’” Chuck told me. “If I was going on a trip, or something like that, of course I couldn’t do it. But I have seen, in just the small amount of time I’ve been there, that those teachers are underpaid. They do such a tremendous job and they’re under a lot of pressure. There’s paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. But the teachers love what they do and the teachers love the children. That is a gift.
“So I think it’s important to love on them a little, go and rub their shoulders for a minute.”
While part of the motivation for his visits—which have included filling in for teachers during class and recess, filling in as a volunteer P.E. coach, proctoring students during testing and coming on Fridays to hand out ice cream to the students who have donated to PTO—a large part of his desire to be there is to show love and support to the students—the kind of love he was always shown as a boy.
“What that child needs is, in an appropriate setting and at an appropriate time, they need to just know that you care about them, that you love them,” Chuck said with a watering eye. “One thing daddy told us repeatedly was, ‘I’m proud of you.’ And golly Brad that just goes so far. When I was proctoring these little girls down there, I would tell them, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ I don’t know if they flunked the test or made a 100 on the test; it doesn’t matter. They took the test; I gained their trust.
“I’ve enjoyed it.”
That Chuck thoroughly enjoys his time helping at the school, helping a friend or doing mission work home and abroad, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows him, as it seems he’s having fun no matter where he is or what he’s doing.
I asked Chuck about his seemingly always upbeat demeanor and as is usually the case, he took a moment to wax philosophical.
“I try not to get stressed out on stuff,” he said. “You start the day with a devotion, you end the day with a devotion and at the end of the day it’s all God’s anyway. I just say, ‘My stress isn’t going to change anything.’
“But make a decision and stick by your decision, after you gather all the information and call some colleagues and have a discussion about it. But just don’t get stressed out about it. We had bad times in the company for sure. We had good times in the company for sure. But life’s too short to get frazzled.
“Not to say I’m not concerned about things or don’t have a lot of things on my heart. And not to say I don’t care about different people, different circumstances.
“My mom does a phenomenal job of sending out cards—birthday cards, anniversary cards, thinking about you cards—that she makes,” he continued. “I think a little bit of that has rubbed off on me. I hear somebody say, ‘Hey I’ll just drop them a note.’ In today’s era I could send a text or an email, but mom says, and dad said, ‘Take time to write them a little note.’ I could say, ‘But dad, that’s 50 cents for the stamp.’ He’d say, ‘I don’t care how much it is. Do you think they’re sitting there saying, ‘He spent 75 cents on me?’ No, he’s saying, ‘hmmm, he cared for me.’ And I said, ‘Dang, I got you.’
“So anyway, I’m doing a lot more of that. But mom does a PHENOMENAL job of it. I think she got that when she went through cancer. Both mom and dad were cancer survivors, are cancer survivors. I think mom got a lot of that because of the influence cards made on her when she was going through treatments.”
Throughout our conversation Chuck often referenced his upbringing and the lessons his parents taught him and his siblings. He spoke of how those lessons have been valuable throughout his life. Thanks to one such lesson, there’s no doubt part of his retirement will be spent promoting the values espoused by the Darsey Family Foundation, which his parents started to support the local environment.
The organization is likely familiar to locals who have come to recognize the bottle-shaped recycling receptacles the foundation has placed throughout the community encouraging citizens to recycle their plastic. Additionally, the foundation funded the placement of a touch-tank aquarium exhibit in the Flint RiverQuarium to further understanding of the world in which we live.
“One of the number one things I remember is whenever we were out in nature, be it Chehaw or Vogel (State Park), in the woods, it didn’t matter, we always had to pick up one more piece of trash than we took in,” Chuck said of his somewhat outdoorsy childhood. “If you’re ever with us, we’re always stooping down to pick up trash. It’s not our trash, but it is our mess. So that’s why I think mother and daddy started the Darsey Family Foundation, which is focused on the environment, recycling and education.
“That’s what we were raised to do. Probably up until three or four months before daddy died, he’d be out every day picking up trash in his ditch. People who drive up and down Beattie Road have always said, ‘I haven’t seen your dad in the ditch in a couple of days, what’s up?’ He would always pick up trash.”
While picking up trash might seem like a small thing to some, in Chuck’s case it’s really kind of indicative of his philosophy about service. Things like teaching the Dave Ramsey class, helping a friend or spending some time at the school really are big things to those who are impacted.
And Chuck is honored that he’s been blessed with the financial security and the good health to be available for others while in retirement—especially folks in this community, which he said has given so much to him.
“Life’s good,” he said as we wrapped up our chat so he could jump on his bike and head over to the church. “I think when you look back you start thinking of mentors. We all had great mentors, whether or not they were in the church, they were in this community.
“There’s a lot of good people in Albany, there really is—good, wholesome people who try to give back.
“There’s so many good people in Albany who do the right thing. If we can ever get them all together, we could put down all this negativity.”
Personally, I think Chuck’s absolutely right about that assertion, and I wholeheartedly believe that the recent retiree is firmly included in that group.
From my perspective, this community would only continue to prosper and reach even greater heights, were we all to borrow a little from the philosophies Chuck Darsey lives by.
“I enjoy life,” Chuck said. “You do the best you can and you thank God every day.”
Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - firstname.lastname@example.org - @BradGMcEwen