Profile -- Handyman Bob

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On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Handyman Bob (aka Bob Wisener) mentioned to a young woman with whom heís been working closely for the past couple of years, that he was leaving the next day for prison. She paled, and froze in her tracks, staring at this man she so admired for his meticulous promptness, good manners, cheerful ways, and fine work. Finally, she gasped. "What happened?"

Bob grinned and explained that he was going to the state prison with his White Bluff United Methodist church group that offers prison ministry.

"Most of the inmates are very suspicious of other men". Theyíve never had a good relationship with a man, so we work to give them this. We put in 12 straight hours every day weíre there. Itís hard work, but itís worth it."

Wisenerís group gives the inmates help with developing self-esteem, learning to make and value commitments, changing their ways and breaking out of old patterns.

"We donít just give lectures; we build relationships. We do everything we can to change the menís attitudes toward other men." But maybe most memorable to these inmates who live most of the year on prison food, they bring good things to eat. "Truckloads of it," says Bob. "Barbequed pork and chicken, cakes and pies and cookies, pretzels and peanuts, candy bars."

And it works. While the recidivism rate at most maximum-security prisons is about 80 percent, among the men they work with, according to prison officials, that rate drops to 15 to 20 percent.

"When you first go," admits Bob, "itís pretty eerie when the doors slam shut behind you. The sound resounds. Thereís no turning around. Youíre locked up." He has now made seven trips, of two to four days each, in about three and a half years. Itís worth it, he believes, when you realize that these guys are learning to turn their lives around.

Twelve hour days are not that unusual for Bob. He starts work most days at 3:00 a.m., long before most of us think the world has opened yet, turning up anywhere from The Landings to the Historic District, from the Southside to Gordonston in hi gleaming white van emblazoned with the sign, "Handyman Bob."

And handy he is. From a leaky toilet to a leaky roof ("provided itís not a high one," he smiles), from the renovation of a broken down apartment to the installation of a gleaming ceramic tile kitchen, Bob can do it all, and do it well. Perhaps just as important to his clients, he does it all with a smile. That keeps food on the table. But what really drives Bob is helping others.

Frequently heís found at the Wesley Community Center in the Thomas Square District, where for years, heís been volunteering his handyman skills and helping out, especially with the kids, ages one to four, who attend Day Care there five days a week.







Recently, the Wesley folks called him over on a pretext, and surprised him with a party, filled with balloons and treats, cake and hugs and kisses, an event dubbed MR. BOB DAY!

"Yes," he says, "I spend a lot of time at the Center. I go over to do a repair of some sort, but to get anywhere, you have to go through the Day Care Center, and so I stop and play with the kids. Theyíre great fun, and though thereís no money involved, the pay is the best I getÖ. hugs every time!"

Bobís a great fan of the center. The Day Care there isnít just baby-sitting, he says, "Itís a real learning center, and the kids are learning according to their ages all day long."

Most of the year, itís for children ages 1 to four, but the Center sponsors summer camp schedules for all ages, with a variety of subjects, from computer studies to writing and staging their own plays. Once a week all the kids are treated to dinner at different ethnic restaurants to give everyone a glimpse and a taste of other culturesí foods and traditions.

"Itís a great place," he says. "They have a killer staff". those women are terrific." Bob helps out with other activities of the Center, too. There are programs for older women on many topics, from nutrition to health to computer skills. And programs for the homeless. In the summer, thereís camp for the older kids.

"We feed a lot of families each week, about 100 a month, and give them help in developing job skills, preparing for interviews, providing professional clothing to help them look for work", schooling or day care for their kids. Nearly all end up finding work and getting off the streets."

In the beginning, the Center worked with perhaps 100 families a year; now, he says, "Theyíre up to close to 2,000 a year."

Wisener, who hails originally from Ohio, worked in the insurance industry there, and came to Savannah over 20 years ago to visit his oldest son, who was then stationed at Fort Stewart.

"My wife, Sharon, and I came, saw Savannah, and decided we wanted to move here. About a year later, we did, and weíve never regretted it. The climate is wonderful, the city is beautiful, weíve made a lot of good friends here through our church."

Married for over 40 years, the Wiseners have four children, two adopted and two by birth, and over the years, have parented nearly a score of foster kids. "It was a lot of fun," he says with a grin. Now they devote time to lots of grandchildren, scattered around the Southeast and the Midwest.

In addition to volunteering at the Wesley Center, Wisener and his wife devote a lot of time and effort to church ministry and charity programs. Heís been called upon to be chairman of virtually every committee they have there, as well as President of the Menís Association and other groups. And he devotes many hours to their work with the homeless.

"I donít really like chairmanships, presidencies, that sort of thing," he says. "I donít like meetings, donít care to be in charge of things, but if they need me to, Iíll do it."

Although she obviously does not accompany him on the prison trips, his wife works with him on most projects. Once a year, they fly to Honduras for 10 days, where they help out with medical and dental care for the poor, whatever else needs to be done, give bible study classes and, as they do everywhere, make friends.

Bob puts into his "helping work" about the same hours per week, 25 to 30, that he devotes to his handyman business. But still, he's not just all work and charity work. An avid sports fan, he thrives on riding his Kowasaki Vulcan motorcycle, and travels, with his wife, to nearly every wrestling match of his two grandsons, Chris and Ben, around the Southeast.

"I have a lot of fun," he says. "And Iíve been blessed. I like to give some back."










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