MR. MOONEY SETS OUT FOOD AND GETS INTO THE VAN
MR. MOONEY SETS OUT FOOD AND GETS INTO THE VAN
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"Everything I do is long-term," says Bill Mooney, a 93-year-old parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi in Albany, where he's gone most of his adult life.

Indeed, once Mr. Mooney finds something he likes, he sticks with it: He only recently retired from 13 years of driving the food pickup van at St. John's/St. Ann's Outreach Center food pantry, which is associated with St. Francis parish.

Mr. Mooney had previously worked for the old Huyck Felt Mill in Rensselaer for 45 years and volunteered as an ambulance driver and a fire truck driver for 30 years and 60 years, respectively. Next month, he'll be married to his wife, Lee, for 67 years.

He's already talking about returning in the summer to the food pantry; he only stopped driving the van because of his age.

Fit as a fiddle
"I'm in pretty good shape," he told The Evangelist. "I could go back down there any time. I don't mind the snow and ice - that doesn't bother me at all. But I have a little trouble breathing in the cold weather."

Plus, he admitted, "I shouldn't be out gallivanting down the roads with somebody else's vehicle. You read in the paper about these elderly people running into windows of restaurants."

The staff and other volunteers at St. John's/St. Ann's were disappointed that Mr. Mooney was ending his run, but they understood. He'd ferried 2,000 pounds of food from the Regional Food Bank to the pantry during each run.

"At 93, you had to give him a break," said Barbara Quinn, the center's director. "He still comes down to visit us because he misses it."

Two new people stepped up to do the job: "He said, 'I retired, and you had to get two people to replace me!'" Mrs. Quinn quipped.

Mr. Mooney remembers when he first saw the ad for the driver job in the parish bulletin. He was 80 and already retired from his felt-weaving job and ambulance driving, but was still responding to fire calls.

"I said, 'I only have one eye, but I [have driven] fire trucks and ambulances," he recalled. "'If you're interested, I'll take the job."

Pitching in
"I enjoyed it," he continued. "It got me out and I met different people. It makes you feel good. I kind of hated to quit."

Mr. Mooney had four or five younger helpers over the years to do the heavy lifting, but that didn't stop him from pitching in: "I couldn't stand there and just watch the guy load the truck."

The driving habit seemed to start in the Army. Mr. Mooney was a corporal during World War II, when he was in his early 20s; he drove a truck with a supply outfit while stationed in Italy and another truck at a landing field for emergency planes in Brazil after the war.

He wasn't close to combat: "That's not my line of work," he said. "But we could hear the bombing and things like that." He counts himself as "very lucky" for a relatively easy wartime experience.

The Army gave him his first taste of firefighting, too: He was part of a fire department at a landing field in Italy, where his crew once snuffed an airplane fire. Back home, he joined Selkirk Fire Company No. 2 and responded to most daytime fires when he wasn't at his night-shift job.

"My wife would get mad at me because I would get out of bed to answer fire calls," Mr. Mooney recalled. "She was always worried about me getting enough sleep. It got to the point where the kids in the neighborhood called me 'Wild Bill.'"

On the road
Mr. Mooney's job was to drive the truck and operate the pump. His favorite part was "everybody getting out of my way on the road," he joked. "It was helping your community out. Sometimes it was a little scary, but you got used to it."

He stopped driving the truck two years ago at a doctor's suggestion, but continued answering calls and helping around the station until a year ago. He still goes to monthly meetings and helps at the firemen's fair, where he ran the beer booth for 55 years.

Mr. Mooney was also a charter member of the Bethlehem Volunteer Ambulance Service, which he considered "a little more exciting. You're going to car accidents and things like that - people's lives involved. A fire company is more or less property."

At 93, Mr. Mooney said his faith has "meant a lot. God must be good to me; [my wife and I] both get around very good. We have our problems, but not that many."

The couple met at Huyck, where her job was rewinding yarn.

"She liked the car I drove," Mr. Mooney remembered with a laugh. "I had a convertible. I was kind of wild and she liked wild men. I was going out every night and having a couple of beers."