Robert Law Hartge seems surprised at the number of citations, honorsand thank-yous from friends, governors and members of Congress that have accumulated in his scrapbook.
Hard-pressed to remember details, the president of the board of directors of Hope House, a non-profit residential drug and alcohol treatment center in Crownsville, barely even acknowledges the day in March 1984 when "a day of celebration in honor of Robert Law Hartge" was designated by the Christ EpiscopalChurch of West River and he was honored by more than 10 organizations.
The modest 67-year-old says simply, "I see something that needs to be done and I get involved."
Not surprisingly, some of Hartge's biggest fans are the people he works with.
"He's an angel. He's the kind of person in a non-profit facility that you dream about," saidHope House Executive Director Bill Rufenacht. "He's unselfish, supporting, caring, and he has a lot of strength and faith that has brought us through some really tough times."
Administrative specialist Linda Dudney agrees. "I don't know what we would do without him," she says.
Even before retiring from the Navy's Bureau of Ships 13 years ago, Hartge was helping others. As a member of the county chapter of the American Red Cross' disaster team, Hartge would receive distress calls at all hours of the night.
"I started that about 25 years ago," says the blue-eyed, bespectacled Hartge. Today, the team of about 15, including its founder, remains on call.
Hartge began another charitable organization, known as FISH, in 1963; it lasted seven years. He got the idea from a Christian organization in England, where people in need of help would place a symbol of a fish in a window.
"The fish is a Christian symbol," he notes.
Hartge and his crew responded to emergency phone calls from people needing food, money or transportation. FISH also had a food bank, headquartered at St. Anne's Church in Annapolis.
Hartge remains active in a program he started at Central Special Education School in Edgewater, teaching orthopedically handicapped children to swim. By spending one afternoon a week there, He helps groups of about four kids, ages 4 to 15, enjoy the water.
Hartge's civic contributions have included a long stint with the Boy Scouts, even after his two boys graduated, and a period as president of the West River Improvement Association. And every Wednesday morning, he picks up three large boxes of bread from the Severna Park Safeway, delivering them to Chrysalis House, Hope House, the Lulu Scott Senior Center and the Galesville Community Center.
One of his more recent adventures took him to three Philippine islands, where he slept on bamboo floors and rode in empty sugar cane trucks whileteaching the natives about the gospel.
"It was an interesting experience. They wanted us to pray for their healing," he said. "You go over there thinking you're helping people, but the reward you get really pumps you up."
Hartge, who has been president of the board at Hope House for the past six years, spends about 30 to 40 hours in hisoffice each week. As the center continues its plans to expand from 22 to 40 beds, Hartge has negotiated a new lease, written the certificate of need to the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission and penned a letter to the governor.
Hope House is raising money to expand, upgrade all utility systems and add an elevator, new windows and other energy-saving projects. Those interested in making a tax-deductible contribution may call 923-6700 or write to Hope House, P.O. Box 546, Crownsville, 21032.