James Banta keeps a purple heart magnet on his refrigerator.
“Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain or accomplish for yourself,” it reads. “It’s what you do for others.”
Banta, 83, wakes up every morning at 4 a.m. and reads the magnet before fetching the morning paper from the porch.
“For me, it’s a reminder,” he says. “We’re supposed to put back into the world some of the benefits we take out of it.”
Banta takes those words seriously. For the past 15 years, he’s volunteered several hours a week at the Spokane Valley Food Bank. He’s also a faithful volunteer for Meals on Wheels, which supplies hot meals to elderly people.
Three days a week, he drives from store to store, collecting baked goods, breads and donuts for hungry families. Then he takes them all back to the food bank and carefully stores them in the freezer.
Between his work driving and loading, he finds time to joke around with other volunteers.
“He’s got a tremendous sense of humor,” says Harold Buelow, 78, who works with Banta several days a week at the food bank. “He’s a great kidder. We’re always thinking up funny things to do to each other.”
Banta started working at the Valley Food Bank in 1982, after retiring from his job as a Spokane County District Court judge.
Back then, Valley Food Bank founder Knox Abbott asked him to get involved. He’s been there ever since, and now serves on the board of directors.
He’s also volunteered for the past six years at Meals on Wheels.
Once a week, he delivers 10 meals to elderly people who can’t get out for a hot dinner. It’s a chance to visit with folks who don’t often have company, he says.
“I’ve talked to a lot of them that say they haven’t seen anybody since the day before,” said Banta.
Along the way, he’s even bumped into some of his old classmates and business friends.
Seeing them has changed his perspective on aging.
“Some of them are pretty feeble,” said Banta. “It makes me feel better that I can still chase around and help out.”
Banta has pursued several careers. He served on cruisers in the Navy from 1933 to 1937, then attended law school at Gonzaga, where he graduated in 1949. He worked as the postmaster of Millwood for 17 years, and was elected a judge in 1962.
He served as a judge for 20 years, rotating in Millwood, Rockford and Spokane. He still serves as a parttime magistrate for the town of Millwood.
“I don’t have many cases,” he says. “But at least I’m on the payroll.”
In his spare time, Banta spends time helping out the Valley Kiwanis chapter, where he’s served for 26 years. A few weeks ago, he helped raise $1,000 for the West Valley High School music department at a rummage sale.
Banta married his wife, Mamie, in 1946, and they had two kids. They’ve lived in the Valley almost their whole lives, and have been members of Millwood Presbyterian Church for 60 years.
He doesn’t get to church much anymore, but God is still a big part of his life.
“The Lord has been pretty good to me, and I’ve had good health all my life,” says Banta.
“I just help somebody else that’s had it a little tougher.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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