Harold "Bud" Irving and his service dog, "Chopper," are practically household names throughout Delta County for their many years of volunteer work with area veterans and the elderly. And now they can include the entire state of Michigan on their list of admirers.
Bud traveled to Detroit on June 30 where he was one of 10 individuals from throughout the state who were presented with the 2014 Governor's Service Awards.
Bud was nominated as a finalist in the Senior Volunteer of the Year category by Denise Perry, Community Resource Coordinator for the Delta/Menominee/Dickinson County Department of Human Services.
The program, "An Evening with the Stars," was held at the Gem Theater and was sponsored by the Ford Motor Co. Fund. Presenting the awards was Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
The 10 finalists were selected from more than 160 individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations from across the state who were nominated for their commitment to volunteer service. The Governor's Service Awards is in its 20th year.
His citation reads: "Harold "Bud" L. Irving has a unique way of serving veterans in his Upper Peninsula community. For 25 years, his dogs have accompanied Bud as he serves as a registered volunteer driver for the Delta County Department of Human Services and the Upper Peninsula Health Plan, helping veterans travel to doctor appointments.
"His first dog, Chubbers, became a part of Bud's unique volunteer driving device with a touch of pet therapy. In addition to driving, Bud and Chubbers also spent long hours with patients recovering from chemotherapy or dialysis. Word spread and soon patients were requesting the 'guy with the dog.'
"When Chubbers passed away, Bud trained Choppers so they could continue visiting patients for pet therapy visits. Bud has volunteered 14,263 hours for the Delta County DHS and logged more than 375,000 miles. In 2013, he contributed 534 hours and 1,037 miles.
"Bud and his dogs have served as many ailing veterans' best friends during some of their toughest moments."
Obviously proud of his latest accolades, Bud is, at the same time, very humbled by the experience.
"I never expected it," he said, showing off the acrylic statuette and framed certificate that were presented to him at the award ceremony.
Because he has difficulty with mobility, Irving was driven to Detroit by his nephew, Craig Irving. Unfortunately, Bud felt the trip and anticipated crowd of well-wishers would be too hard on his dog, so Chopper remained at home with a relative.
"I knew he would be too nervous so I thought it was best to leave him home," Bud explained. "But he sure was excited to see me when I got back home."
Even though he was without his four-legged sidekick, Irving said he was more than glad to make the trip.
"Were they ever nice to all of us down there," he said. He had brought along a motorized wheelchair to ride on but when he and his nephew arrived in Detroit, it didn't work so Bud used two canes to walk into the theater. Once inside, he was given access to a wheelchair to use during the ceremony.
"When it came time to get my award, I wasn't able to walk up on the stage so Gov. Snyder came down to me," Bud added, smiling at the memory.
When asked what his thoughts were as he was presented the award, a very pensive look crossed his face as he responded.
"Actually I was thinking of so many of the people that I helped over the years who are no longer with us," he said. "Many of them were a part of my life for quite a long time."
He recalled individuals who were lonely, hurting and scared who were soothed by the almost human empathy of his two dogs.
"I remember once when I was at Marquette General and there was a little boy who was going to have surgery and he was so scared," Bud recalled. "He cried and cried and his parents weren't able to get him to stop. One of the nurses asked me if I would being Choppers in to see him. Once we got into the room, Choppers went over and put his head on the bed. The minute the little guy saw him, he stopped crying and before you knew it, there was a big smile on his face."
A lonely old veteran once told Bud how much he appreciated visits from Choppers.
"He said it was a really great feeling in knowing that he had a four-legged friend waiting for him at the elevator," Bud explained.
He also related the cooperation he received from local road crews who made sure streets and driveways were cleared of snow so Bud could have access to the homes of those he was ready to transport.
There were even moments that still bring laughter to Bud. He recalled an elderly woman he was transporting who asked if she could have one of the mints Bud had on his dashboard.
"Once she took the mint, I don't know exactly what happened but she started choking on it," he said. "There she was in the passenger seat and I certainly couldn't do that maneuver they do where you put your arms around them and press hard. So I pulled the car over and bent her over and slapped her hard on her back. Her upper teeth came flying out and landed on the dashboard and her lower teeth landed on the floor - along with the mint."
To this day, Bud said he is teased about the event and asked, "Have you hit any more 80-year-old ladies lately?"
Surprisingly, Chopper probably has a better attendance record at his master's church, Christ the King Lutheran, than some others in the congregation. Chopper's favorite place to be is in the area where the youngsters gather for Sunday School. Come Saturday night, Bud is in the habit of telling his pooch, "You've gotta get cleaned up. We're going to church tomorrow, and he's always ready to go. Now it's summer and there's no Sunday school so Chopper looks a little lost."
Bud is not upset to be asked if he would get another dog once 9-year-old Chopper is no longer able to be of service. Bud commented, "I get that question a lot. And the answer is NO. At my age and with my health, it would be too hard on me to break in a new dog. It's a lot of hard work."
But the pair plan to carry on as long as they are able - touching the lives of so many who are in need of a helping hand with no one else available or no one else to care.