NEW ULM, MN – Artist Curt Schultz, of New Ulm was all smiles November 21st as he looked over a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country handicap-accessible mini-van parked in his driveway.
“Oh wow,” he said before riding his wheelchair up a ramp into the dark garnet-colored van with “zero” effort steering, hand controls and a drop-down gate for easy wheel chair access.
A quadriplegic since suffering injuries in a 1984 automobile accident, Schultz’ previous van broke down four years ago, and he has been without personal transportation since that time.
New Ulm Journal Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Brown County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) Greg Peterson learned of Schultz’ vehicular dilemma one day in 2009 as he was driving across the Minnesota River bridge in New Ulm.
“I noticed the Minnesota State Patrol had a wheelchair (of all things), pulled over,” Peterson wrote in an e-mail note to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) of Minnesota Donor Connection Program coordinator. “I recognized it was Curt and turned around to help. Curt said he was trying to “drive” his motorized wheelchair 35 miles to rural Le Sueur to visit his brother. Since I had a pickup truck, I offered to take him. More law enforcement came to help lift his very heavy wheel chair (also received through the DAV Donor program) into my truck and Curt into the passenger seat. We were off on what turned out to be quite an adventure.”
Peterson explained that without use of his van, Schultz was forced to ride his wheelchair five miles two times a week to visit his handicapped daughter who lives in a New Ulm group home. Winter weather would prevent him from the visits until Spring.
Because the Brown County Veterans Hospital shuttle van is not equipped to accommodate wheelchairs, Schultz rented a trailer to haul his wheelchair when he went to Veterans Administration medical appointments, Peterson wrote.
Scheduling Brown County (intra-county) transit bus van rides required him to coordinate the rides at least 24 hours prior to trips, which didn’t allow Curt to make spur-of-the-moment decisions most people can do,” Peterson added.
“Curt told me he could really use a van and has prayed for one. He missed seeing how the farmers crops changed during the seasons, and that he hadn’t been out of town since his last VA appointment in February.” Peterson wrote.
About six hours after Peterson’s email about Schultz was sent to Minnesota DAV Donor Connect Program Coordinator Gerry Falkowski in St. Paul, who had communicated to the 87-county CVSO and DAV network that a donor would like to provide a handicapped van to a disabled veteran, plans were underway to make the connection for the van to be delivered.
The van was donated by the family of Arnold Knutson of Martell, WI. Knutson wanted to serve his nation badly during the Korean War but was unable due to an affliction with polio. Decades later in 2004 he was paralyzed in a car accident and recently passed away. Gerry Falkowski provided Knutson’s children with a description of Schultz and his needs and they all agreed that their father would have been proud to have Curt receive his van. The donated van was driven to New Ulm, MN by Annette Kelley of Prescott, WI. Her sister (Ione Hayes of Ellsworth, WI) followed in the return car; both are daughters of Mr. Knutson.
The MN DAV Donor Connection program was established to coordinate the connection between a donor, who has handicapped equipment, and disabled veterans with a need for that equipment. The DAV coordinator of the program uses a Statewide network (County Veteran Service Officers, MN DAV chapter leadership, members, and others) to identify a disabled veteran or family member in need of that equipment and makes the connection with the donor and assists in delivery. This past year equipment valued over $500,000 has been transferred from donors to disabled veterans in MN through this program.
Navy veteran Curt Schultz of New Ulm, in van, takes possession of a handicap-accessible 2001 Chrysler Town & Country mini-van Thursday from donor Annette Kelley, right, of Prescott, Wis. , Kelley’s sister Ione Hayes of Ellsworth, WI, and New Ulm DAV #15 Commander Mike Finstad.