P&J He’s My Brother

Pride & Joy

He’s My Brother

By Jackie Minniti

In a perfect world, everyone would have a friend like Jim Mapes. This St. Pete Beach army veteran has spent his profes- sional life serving others. After three years in the army, he’s held an interesting assortment of jobs, and since he retired, he’s made it his mission to continue helping others who need him.

Jim is a native Floridian, born and raised in the Sunshine State. While in the army, he earned the title of master shooter – the top designation. When he was discharged, he took a job with the St. Pete Beach police department and spent 25 years in law enforcement. After retiring (for the first time), he found that life as a retiree didn’t agree with him. “I’m hyper,” he admits, and I can’t just sit around.” So he went to work for Pinellas County for another 20 years putting his shooting skills to work for the Animal Control division.

Jim Mapes got bored after retiring a second time and put his law enforcement background to use helping Army veteran and neighbor Wally Gazda who was being swindled and abused. Today he takes Wally to the American Legion on St. Pete Beach and helps him with many daily tasks. He also volunteers at the Bay Pines VA.

“I shot darts,” he said. “I never shot a person, but once I shot a 6-foot-3-inch diamondback rattler.” He also spent time as an investigator for the Construction Licensing Board, looking into fraud cases involving unscrupulous contractors. In his spare time, he even did a stint as a nightclub bodyguard. “I have an ability to keep people calm,” he says. “I wasn’t a bouncer – I was a cooler. It was my job to get the trouble outside.”

Eight years ago, Jim retired for the second time, but it didn’t take him long to find someone to help. It started when his elderly neighbor, needed someone to put his vacuum cleaner together. “After getting to know him, I found out he was being abused by two men who were the sons of his best friend,” Jim says. “I got involved investigating unofficially and found out they were stealing from him and committing fraud. Then I found out there was also physical abuse.” So Jim sprang into action. Eight months later, warrants were issued against the two men, and Jim was able to get all the stolen money returned.

After this, he took his neighbor under his wing. “He was a victim.He had no one – no family, nothing. And it was unspeak- able to me that he was victimized by men he trusted.” Now Jim does his shopping, cleaning, and laundry, takes him to doctor appointments and to the American Legion once a week. Jim and his girl- friend, Sandy Erikson, take him out to dinner on his birthday and celebrate holidays with him. Jim even oversees his finances to make certain no one takes advantage of him again. “He’s not a burden,” Jim says. “It’s something I love to do.” But even caring for his neighbor wasn’t enough to keep Jim occupied. “I get bored with sitting in my condo looking out at the water. By one o’clock, I want to be out and about.” So two years ago, Jim began volunteering at the VA Hospital at Bay Pines. He calls himself a “floater,” splitting his time between working with veterans undergoing post-surgery rehabilitation and visiting veterans in hospice care. He even helps in the outpatient area getting visitors where they need to go.

For Jim, the personal satisfaction he gets from helping others far outweighs the investment of time. “It’s a personal thing,” Jim says. “These are my brothers, and I put myself in their place. I feel good because I got to serve my country, and now I get to serve these guys. It makes me feel like a million dollars. When I leave, I walk with my shoulders back. I can walk proud.”