Rotary clubs band together for wheelchair drive

MARSHALL – More than 60 million people around the world are without mobility.

It’s a number that is both startling and sad, which is why area Rotary clubs recently stepped forward in an effort to promote mobility around the world by having a wheelchair drive Saturday morning in Marshall.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to help,” Sunrise Rotary member Quentin Fixen said.

Marshall’s Sunrise Rotary and Noon Rotary clubs teamed up to collect wheelchairs with its fellow organization in Canby and Minneota.

“We’ve all been working together,” Fixen said early on Saturday morning. “Canby has donated several already. Thirteen, I think. We’ve got close to 10 here. Minneota donated some of those, though.”

Taunton resident Laurie VanWatermeulen stopped by The Bike Shop to drop off two wheelchairs for the cause.

“My son Robert outgrew them,” VanWatermeulen said. “He’ll be 20 this year. The chairs were sitting in the garage collecting dust, so I thought I’d donate them.”

Fixen noted that Shelli Masek, volunteer and donor support at Hope Haven International Ministries in Sioux Falls, S.D., helped the four Rotary cubs organize their first-ever wheelchair drive.

“We want it to become an annual event,” he said.

Masek has been on six international trips since 2009, seeing firsthand how mobility can improve the quality of someone’s life there.

“We’ve given chairs in 106 countries but mostly to Vietnam, Romania and Guatemala,” Masek said. “We gave out our 100,000th chair to a young lady with cerebral palsy in Guatemala in January. That’s 100,000 wheelchairs since 1995.”

Whether people are just spring cleaning or have had a parent or other family member die, Masek encouraged anyone to consider donating a wheelchair that is no longer being used. Sunrise Rotary president Mike Rich added that Dave Horstmann, The Bike Shop owner, agreed to continue collecting wheelchairs throughout the year.

“He said people could bring them down to The Bike Shop anytime,” Rich said. “That way it can be a continual process.”

After thanking her, Rich explained to VanWatermeulen that her donated chairs would go to Sioux Falls to be refurbished. Volunteers collect, rebuild and manufacture wheelchairs for the many people with disabilities.

“The chairs will be completely taken apart,” he said. “They’ll replace the bearings and the padding if they need to. It’ll end up being like a new chair.”

Inmates from the South Dakota State Penitentiary often help work on the projects.

“I think it gives them a feeling of retribution, that they’ve helped out a good cause,” Rich said.

Because of birth defects, limited medical access and malnutrition issues around the world, Hope Haven International will likely stay active for a long time, Masek said.

“We’ll never be out of a job,” she said.