“People don’t believe what Kiwanis does. It’s probably the biggest secret in Botetourt,” said James “Jim” Bushong, longtime member and supporter. A retired teacher and proud of what Kiwanis does for youth and the community, Bushong spends his days either volunteering or enjoying life with his wife Kay and seven grandkids.
Bushong comes from a well-known Roanoke family but he grew up in Botetourt after the death of his parents. Old-timers recall his high school job as Mr. Peanut dancing in the street, where the Howard Johnson’s restaurant was. “I walked from Cloverdale to the peanut store cause I didn’t have a car.” And he’d also help unload tour buses stopping at area motels.
Before and after his 1964 graduation from Lord Botetourt, he worked summers with some now famous local men, Dan Naff and Jack Leffel, helping build the interstate with cement from the Botetourt plant. He hadn’t planned on college but ended up doing it, then went to work with Eli Lilly in creative plastic packaging. His next career move took him to Skyline Paint and Hardware from 1968 til ’72. There he learned some survival skills. When an arsonist set the paint store on fire, “the fire was to destroy the [financial] records, but we had a fireproof safe to protect them.”
At this point he asked advice of a now-deceased teacher who said “you need to be a teacher.” So as a teacher at the Botetourt Technical Education Center, looking back on it, he said, “I had a good ride. Good students, good supportive administration. I never regretted going to work, went not a day without work or a day without a paycheck.” He realized that “the students you teach might be your next-door neighbor some day. Your goal should be to make sure you’d be comfortable with a former student being your next-door neighbor.”
So when a Kiwanian invited him to join, he decided that he needed to give back to the community and started his Kiwanis career. Everyone knew he specialized in construction and engineering, so one of the first projects he did was insulating a trailer for a lady. The whole club helped build the playground equipment at Greenfield. And they took on quarterly cleanup of Exit 150. “We do 12 to 25 bags each time” covering all the on and off ramps.
The club’s less visible participation in promoting CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) helps many Botetourt children. You’ll find a Kiwanis hand in the Currents art and poetry program in the schools, the annual scholarships for graduating Botetourt students and the dictionary program. One of the most important programs of Kiwanis, it supplies each Botetourt third-grade student with a dictionary with his or her name in it — a dictionary the student can then take home. And you’ve heard about the teacher of the year award? Kiwanis gives this to recognize excellent educators in the county.
Key Clubs in the high schools train youngsters for service. They helped with the huge shredding and recycling event Kiwanis did recently. “Some students turned out to assist even tho it was spring break. We still had their support and help.”
Bushong also occasionally substitute teaches. “I miss the kids. It’s great to share the experience of my life with them from a business and industry standpoint. I know what it is to hire and fire, and to see what skills they really have.” And he knows how to share real world information — “there is no free lunch out there” — as students prepare themselves for careers and good citizenship.