Mona Shield Payne
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Fred and Marion Rose travel with their life’s belongings in their 12-year-old light blue Toyota Echo: decades-old clothing, pictures of their only son and hundreds of homemade stuffed animals.
The New Jersey natives, who have been together for 38 years, roam across the country during the summer and live in a different city for about five months. This year, in early June, they chose to set anchor in Las Vegas.
But they don't relax near a hotel pool or in front of a slot machine. They spend countless hours volunteering at local charities and organizations, including Nevada PEP (Parents Encouraging Parents) and the Lied Discovery Children's Museum.
In the past few years, they have made and given away thousands of "DinoBuddies" — stuffed animals crafted out of bright, colorful fabric swatches, cut into friendly shapes like dinosaurs or rabbits and filled with recyclable plastic bags that they've collected.
The Roses give the DinoBuddies to anyone who looks like they're having a rough day or to charities or organizations that can pass them onto someone who needs a pick-me-up.
"It's rewarding to get a smile from someone," said Fred Rose, 61. "You don't see a lot of smiles anymore."
Marion Rose, 60, nodded in agreement and added, "A lot of times, you see a lot of sad things and if you can make a difference in one person's life, that makes us feel good."
The couple first created the DinoBuddies out of excess fabric at a Portland, Ore., children's museum as a tool to educate children about recycling and reusing materials. The museum was in the midst of its self-declared "year of the dinosaur," and so the couple decided to design the stuffed animals to look like dinosaurs.
They've since donated the little critters to local hospitals, museums, charities, mayors, police officers, even to "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" star Ty Pennington when the couple volunteered for the ABC television show.
Fred still owns the T-shirt he received from the show, but it's the only memento he's kept from the Roses’ numerous travels and volunteer experiences.
They've donated or given away other shirts, vouchers for buffet dinners and baseball tickets they have acquired through volunteering.
The couple leave behind the DinoBuddies and other donations, but they hardly take anything with them or ask for anything in return.
After Fred retired in 2004 from his 30-year career as a Postal Service employee in Connecticut, they moved to Biloxi, Miss. For half a dozen years, they pinballed up and down the South, trying to evade hurricanes.
They were caught in Hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, Gustav and Ike, and have been uprooted from two residences by the ferocious weather. Ultimately, Hurricane Rita, which hit in September 2008, forever changed their perspective on life.
Marion said they were watching the forecast on television in their Galveston, Texas, home when the weatherman pointed to a pier and said, “That pier's going to be gone tomorrow.”
"I looked outside and it was the pier across the street. We packed everything that we could fit in the car and left. And that pier was gone when we came back," Marion said.
The couple left their home, only to become stuck in gridlock for 37 hours on a Texas highway in scorching 100-degree heat.
They had no bathrooms, no food, a dwindling tank of gas and two bottles of water, provided by a merciful gas station owner who also gave them a departing hug.
"We saw people dying, people's pets were dehydrated, there was no air conditioning," Marion said. "There was just nothing we could do. It was just gridlock."
Marion, who has crisscrossed the United States more than a dozen times and has visited every continental state with her husband, said it was the only time she'd ever heard Fred give up.
"He didn't think we were going to make it," Marion said. "And I took one look at him and said, 'I don't plan on dying on this highway. This is not where we're going to end. I know that. I can tell you right now. I know that for a fact. This is not it. I'm not dying out here on this highway and neither are you.’"
After the harrowing experience, the couple decided to further immerse themselves into charity and committing acts of goodwill. Instead of replacing what they’d lost in the storms, they decided to simplify their lifestyle, to the point that all of their belongings could fit in their car.
"Our perspective on life has changed since the hurricanes. We let go of a lot of stuff. That's what made us realize how short life really is. Any given day of the week, you don't know what's going to happen so you really have to live each day like it may be your last one," Marion said.
Despite moments of hardship, the couple still find a silver lining for everything.
"A lot of good things came out of the tragedy for us. We got to travel, and we weren't intending to travel. We met new people and we got to help out," Marion said.
The couple resolved to never hold grudges or put anything off.
"Once (Fred) makes a promise, he has to keep them even if it kills him," Marion said.
The retired Postal Service employee grinned. "I deliver. I'm a mailman."
They settled back in Galveston, but they still leave the town almost every summer. They spent a summer volunteering in Charleston, S.C., where they briefly worked at a Bill Murray-owned baseball park, and another in Sheboygan, Wis., where their only son lives.
This year, they decided to retrace the steps of a road trip they took in 1976. They started in California, where they dropped off a DinoBuddy and a crocheted blanket at the hospital where Marion found out she was pregnant.
"This year, we wanted to try one more road trip before we couldn't do it anymore," Marion said. She said they settled on Las Vegas because "it seemed like there would be something to do."
They said the most difficult part isn't constantly being on the go — traveling thousands of miles, moving from city to city, driving between volunteer sites and dropping off DinoBuddies wherever they can — but rather, the hardest part was leaving.
Nevada PEP community education specialist Diane Lombardo said she didn't want to see the Roses leave Las Vegas.
"Their glass is half full. They put a positive spin on everything. They do everything they can to help other people. We just love them," Lombardo said. "They've been doing it all. I just gave them a couple of days off. They said, 'We don't need a break.' And I said, 'Well, you deserve one!'"
The couple, who will leave on Labor Day so they can fulfill some obligations in Galveston, said they wouldn't completely rule out another Las Vegas visit.
"Las Vegas has opened their heart to us," Fred said. "We have met and will meet endless more people along this quest and take with us memories as we pass by.”