LAWRENCE, Kan. -- He's in his 70's, but young at heart, and now his thousands of hours of volunteering to help others stay young at heart are being recognized.
Don “Red Dog” Gardner is a Lawrence fixture and an inspiration too.
"That one I was proud of, and to be truthful, I even voted one time for myself," said 75-year-old Gardner, who is the Kansas winner of the Home Instead Senior Care service award. "I'm just overwhelmed!"
Gardner is being recognized for his dedicated community service, including his work with Red Dog's Dog Days, a free community fitness program for Lawrence residents.
"It helped kids get in better shape," said Gardner. "What I used to always tell the kids, if I told them to do it, I could do it. Not anymore!"
TJ Everett, who has been participating in Dog Days since he was seven, admires Gardner.
"Seeing this awesome guy lead us every morning at 6 a.m. is pretty nice. I just grew up with a good role model," said 17-year-old Everett.
Everett says Gardner has inspired him in more ways than one.
"It gives me hope that maybe when I'm 75 years old, I can still be incredibly involved in the community," he added.
Gardner, a former marine and police officer, has helped thousands of people live healthier, more active lives by providing free workout sessions at least three days a week, year-round.
"I just enjoy it. I like the association. I like meeting kids like TJ," said Gardner.
He began the program in 1984 to help high school athletes maintain fitness during the summer. Now, the program includes participants of all ages.
"We went from six football players the first year to, by the second or third year, we had 70 or 80. And in no time we had 300 or 400," Gardner said.
As one of 50 state winners, Gardner earned $500 for his charity of choice. He donated the money to the nonprofit Ride4Cops because he's a retired police officer and he felt it was a good cause.
"He's one of the most modest people that I've ever met," said Everett. "But he's dedicated hundreds if not thousands of hours over the almost 30 years that he's been doing this program."
Gardner says it’s about the community.
"It's the people around you, it's not just you," Gardner said.
For more information on the senior service program, or Red Dog’s Dog Days, CLICK HERE.
CLICK HERE to visit Red Dog’s Dog Days Facebook page.