Turning e-waste into gold

Roger Feldtmose was looking for a basic adult-ed computer class when he wandered into the Grover Beach Exploration Station, a hands-on learning center filled with science exhibits for kids and their families.

Little did Feldtmose know that would lead to a nearly decade-long volunteer career —and to a spot on The Tribune’s roster of unsung heroes.

Here’s how it happened: As Feldtmose describes it, he likes “cutting up and goofing around,” and that sense of fun earned him some attention in computer class — and an invitation to help chaperone 40 kids on a whale watching expedition sponsored by the Exploration Station.

That was nine years ago, and Feldtmose, 71, — who still likes cutting up and goofing around — has been volunteering at the nonprofit learning center ever since.

At various times he’s been the director of volunteers; he’s served on the nonprofit’s board of directors; he’s organized fundraisers, including book sales and car washes; and he’s served on numerous committees, including the exhibit committee.

He’s there at least four days per week. On garbage day, when the center happens to be closed, he comes in anyway, so he can put the garbage cans away.

“We would be lost here without him,” says Deborah Love, the Exploration Station’s executive director.

Feldtmose’s primary project now is electronics recycling; the Exploration Station collects used TV sets, computers, phones, printers and office machines. The nonprofit is a drop-off point for electronic waste, and it also arranges to pick up oversized items.

The Exploration Station receives payments through the state’s e-waste recycling program — a revenue source that’s become the nonprofit’s most steady stream of income.

Feldtmose, a former vacuum cleaner salesman who worked his way up to become a district manager in charge of 14 offices and 90 sales people, uses many of his promotional skills to “sell” the program.

He approaches thrift stores, hotels, hospitals, schools — any place that might have a need to unload large numbers of outdated TVs and other electronic items. He even attaches signs and balloons to his personal vehicle, and parks it on a busy street to draw traffic to the drop-off site.

Not all of the computers are recycled; some are repaired by engineers who volunteer at the center. The refurbished computers are then distributed to needy children through the Exploration Station’s Computers 4 Youth program. Over the past 11 years, the program has distributed 3,500 computers — one of the statistics that Feldtmose points to with pride.

“I really believe in this,” he said. “I really believe in what we’re doing here.”

For not only believing in a great cause, but also devoting remarkable time and energy to help it thrive, The Tribune is proud to honor Roger Feldtmose as an unsung hero.