Through the years as RAM has grown from employing only a few full-time staff members, to now employing more than 20, there have always been volunteers who fill key roles. Ronnie Martin, for example, has been volunteering with RAM and wearing multiple hats for years. Ronnie thinks he has been volunteering with RAM between 10 and 15 years. He still volunteers at select clinics, heads up our RAM Marine division, and serves as the Surplus Equipment Coordinator.
He got his start with RAM after he retired. A place to volunteer his time interested him, and there had recently been a natural disaster in another state. He initially looked into volunteer with the American Red Cross, but, “It seemed they had more volunteers than they could use.” He went to check out RAM, which was also providing relief after the natural disaster, and he filled out an application. The rest is history; he has been volunteering in some way ever since.
Ronnie attended South High School, and after graduating he attended an electronics school for a year. He joined the military a year later during the Vietnam War. He was part of the Air Force, specializing in long-range radar. Long-range radar specialists would look over into Russia and were part of the United States military’s early Missile Warning System.
Upon leaving active duty, Ronnie served in the Tennessee Air National Guard for 6 years. “My military career was the best of times, and the worst of times.” He worked a few other places when he moved back to Knoxville and then settled in at South Central Bell. He spent 22 years as a Toll Technician. He stopped working there to start his own business with his wife, Vicky. The business was entitled Volunteer Vette Products, where they manufactured classic car parts for Corvettes. Ronnie and Vicky spent 18 years running Volunteer Vette, watching it become very profitable and then selling it in 2000. He has since retired and so has Vicky.
Ronnie fondly remembers meeting the head of the University of Tennessee Kidney Transplant Department. He had 9 patients who needed kidney transplants, but before they could be put on the list they needed dental work. RAM was asked if they could provide help, due to the fact that the patients could not afford the needed dental care. The patients attended the Knoxville RAM clinic at Chilhowee Park, where all of them received the dental care needed and were subsequently put on the transplant list. “This was all possible because they now had received the dental care they needed from the RAM clinic.”
His most rewarding moment during his time with RAM came during a clinic in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He was working at the registration area. Ronnie remembers there being around 30 volunteers registering patients that day. “We had an area in front of us where several hundred patients were sitting, waiting to be registered.” He recalls how, completely out of the blue, the patients, who were so appreciative of RAM being there, stood up and spontaneously gave the volunteers a round of applause. “I’ve been to hundreds of clinics over the years and have never seen anything like that, neither before nor after. It certainly touched my heart.”
Ronnie also had another story that really described just how much a RAM clinic can affect someone’s life and demeanor. There was a young boy who came into the New Orleans clinic, and due to the hurricane, both of his ear pieces on the glasses had broken off. He resorted to using a rubber band to keep them on. The lenses were also damaged, so he was having a hard time seeing out of the glasses. The volunteers tested his eyes, and he picked out some new frames. Once the glasses were done and placed on his face, he jumped for joy. Ronnie recalled how one of the volunteers said, “This is just a pair of glasses, why are you so happy?” He replied, “Now I will be able to see what’s on the marker board at school.” That moment really touched Ronnie. “That may seem like a small thing to us, but to this boy, it meant a lot. He wanted to learn!”
Since Ronnie began his journey with RAM, he said the growth has been amazing to witness. “When I first started volunteering for RAM, we could only set up 12 dental positions because that was all the equipment we had.” He was quick to point out that, due to generous donors, we can now set up around 120 positions and serve many more people. “This tells me that people are willing to give to help others that are in need. This makes me feel great.”
Something that most people may not know about Ronnie is that he loves to be around water. “I liked to go fast on the water!” He started racing boats when he was in his twenties. He did that up until 1975. During a race in Nashville, Tennessee, his boat flipped over backwards at about 80 miles per hour. He broke his left femur and had many contusions. “Since I am a slow learner, I continued to race until two of my friends were killed in racing accidents.”
If a person were to approach Ronnie about volunteering, he would tell them volunteers are needed at headquarters during the week, and certainly needed for clinics on weekends. He originally got the idea of volunteering from listening to a Chicago pastor being interviewed on television. The pastor said his church neighborhood was riddled with crime, drug usage, and unemployment. At the end of the program the pastor was asked how viewers could help. He responded, “If you have a loving family, a good home, and a good job, could you give one weekend out of the month to help those who are not as fortunate as you are?” He thought about RAM, and thought to himself, “This fits me perfectly. I can give one weekend out of the month to help others.”
On a personal note, Ronnie attends my church, and is a strong influence on my life. He also happens to be my father-in-law. He spends just about every waking moment helping people. He and Vicky volunteer at Volunteer Ministry Center every Thursday; he works with Lost Sheep Ministries; and he helps get homeless people dentures through a ministry in the downtown Knoxville area. Not only does he have a wonderful and beautiful daughter, but he gives his all to helping people in every way he can. The word humanitarian is thrown around a lot, but Ronnie Martin truly is a humanitarian.
RAM is extremely lucky to have someone like Ronnie volunteer his time and set an example in the community of what can be achieved if you give your time.