By Elizabeth McGuire
Michael Valescu may have all the time in the world, but you won’t catch him wasting it. The retired engineer was recently named Austin Parks Foundation’s Volunteer of the Year for his tireless efforts to improve green space around Austin. In 2015 he volunteered an estimated 1,200 hours to the organization. A native of Del Rio, 68-year-old Valescu has been in Austin since 1972. He built semiconductor chips for 40 years for primarily small companies and start-ups and “went around the world two or three times” in the process.
Valescu first connected with APF in 2004, when he was helping to establish the Country Club Creek Trail in Southeast Austin near his home. With the support of APF and many volunteers, they completed that trail from Roy Guerrero Park almost to Ben White Blvd.
“It’s almost five miles of trail through private land and easements,” he said. “It turns out that’s not an easy thing to do to get easements and the city’s blessing. So it was a challenging but satisfying project.”
His first It’s My Park Day soon followed and Valescu was immediately hooked. He now helps with many before/during/after aspects of the annual event, along with supporting year-round projects at parks such as Mabel Davis District Park, Williamson Creek Greenbelt and Quail Creek Park.
“I always enjoy working with other volunteers and the APF staff. It’s been a very rewarding experience,” he said. “Being named Volunteer of the Year, though? I’m astounded. I didn’t expect it because they have so many who give so much of their time and effort. I’m blown away.”
Valescu is both practical and philosophical when he considers what draws him to giving so many hours for so many years.
“Volunteering gives me a sense of purpose,” he explained. “If you retire and sit down, statistics say you die within 10 years. But if you reinvent yourself and keep yourself busy you are going to live a little longer. For me, it’s been a way to get out of the house, be with people and…dare I say this? Feel useful.”
“I’m also getting to the far end of my life. I plant trees that I will never sit under, but my grandkids might. It’s a means of giving back. I’m not a wealthy man—I can’t give a lot of money, but I can give my time and effort.”
People Plus Parks is a series featuring the people behind the work we’re doing in Austin’s parks. Check out the “People + Parks” category for more.