NEW ULM - Artist Curt Schultz was all smiles Thursday 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.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Navy veteran Curt Schultz of New Ulm, in foreground, takes possession of a handicap-accessible 2001 Chrysler Town & Country mini van Thursday from donor Annette Kelley, left, of Prescott, Wis. Others pictured are Kelley’s sister Ione Hayes of Ellsworth, Wis. and New Ulm DAV Commander Mike Finstad and Brown County Veterans Service Officer Greg Peterson.
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 in New Ulm.
"I noticed the Minnesota State Patrol had a wheelchair (of all things), pulled over," Peterson wrote in a Nov. 6, 2013 letter to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) of Minnesota Donor Connection Program. "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 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 donated 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.
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 transit bus van rides required him to coordinate them at least 24 hours prior to trips, which didn't allow him 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," Peterson wrote.
About six hours after Peterson's email about Schultz was sent to Minnesota DAV Donor Connect Program Manager Gerry Falkowski replied that two other CVSOs provided veteran candidates for a van, but his organization felt Schultz was the one most worthy of the donation.
On Thursday morning, the donated van was driven to New Ulm by Annette Kelley of Prescott, Wis. and her sister Ione Hayes of Ellsworth, Wis.
A Sleepy Eye native, Schultz served in U.S. Navy SeaBee Mobile Construction Battalion 5 from 1970 to 1972. After being discharged, he worked in construction in the southeastern U.S. by day and played guitar, (his passion), by night with local bands.
In June of 1980, Schultz moved to New Ulm to recover from an injury and to seek work.
After recovering, Schultz found local work during the day and played in a band that performed in New Ulm, Nicollet, Mankato and St. Peter. On Aug. 24, 1984, he played a gig in St. Peter and was driving home late at night when he drove off the road on a curve and hit a tree. He suffered a C5-C6 spinal cord injury that caused his paralysis.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).