Sunday, June 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

A Smiling Servant

// 90-year-old mentor gives hope to struggling youth at Remann Hall.

Del Rotan has done his service for America. The 90-year-old Tacoman and World War II veteran served for three years in Europe, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and at Omaha Beach.

He raised two successful daughters with his wife of 63 years, and is grandfather to more than a dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And today, his service hasn’t stopped.

Rotan has expanded his reach to thousands of “foster grandchildren” through his volunteer work at Remann Hall.

Four days a week – for the past 16 years – Rotan has made the short drive from his North Pearl apartment to the juvenile detention facility on 6th Avenue.

He doesn’t drive much, mainly just to Remann Hall and to the grocery store to browse the aisles or to pick up a small steak for dinner.

Once his driver’s license expires in a couple of years, he said he won’t renew it because he doesn’t want to put others at risk – he’ll just start using the shuttle to get to and from his weekly gig.

Rotan’s wit is as sharp as his wardrobe. And his smile as big as his heart.

His goal is to help young people. Day after day, he finds a way to help children feel like someone cares about them; in turn, he hopes they are able to find their way out of the stronghold of substance abuse and crime.

“I try and let them know I’m trying to help them not cause more trouble,” Rotan said.

“If I can help one kid, it’s a blessing.”

Rotan has worked with a variety of youth at Remann Hall, some as young as 10, who have committed a variety of offenses ranging from underage drinking to murder.

Oftentimes, Rotan has only a short time to interact with the youth, and after they are released, he never knows for sure how their lives will end up.

“I wish I had more happy stories to tell,” he said.

The gravity of the crimes committed by the youth Rotan deals with, and the lack of satisfaction knowing his warm smile and big heart paid off, doesn’t discourage him. It only makes him want to work harder.

Rotan began volunteering at Remann Hall for a six-month program back in 1995, after reading an advertisement in the newspaper asking for volunteers. Sixteen years later, he has volunteered in almost every capacity available at Remann Hall, from providing counseling for drug abuse to supporting at-risk youth.

“Del is the oldest in the program and the only one to serve at Remann Hall,” said Katherine Lechner, who coordinates the Foster Grandparent program for Catholic Community Services.

Rotan is one of more than 35 foster grandparents who serve locally at childcare centers, Head Start preschools, elementary schools, and the Boys and Girls Club after school programs.

“We place grandparents in places with at-risk youth. A lot of times the first grandparent they’ve ever seen is this pseudo grandparent,” Lechner said. “A lot of kids say they feel more comfortable with the grandparents because they’re not as intimidating as a staff member or an authority figure.”

At Remann Hall, Rotan is a friendly and non-threatening figure that provides support to young offenders who may be nervous. He works as a guide for the children, explaining the court procedures, giving tours of the facility, and answering any questions they and their families may have.

“As I leave Remann Hall every day, I feel so proud for impacting the lives of these children, even the smallest bit, and I feel so proud of the children for taking the right steps to better their lives.”