Roy Gandy stood on Rotary ramp number 800 Saturday remembering ramp number one.
The first recipient had suffered from polio and had a terrible time trying to get in and out of his home. Gandy and fellow Rotarians were there to install an air conditioner for the Madison County man, but it was obvious, he needed a ramp.
“He was a good guy, but he was crawling in and out of his house,” said Gandy. “That ramp was our first one, a 24-footer. It took us most of the day to do it.”
That was 1995. And over the next quarter of a century, the Rotary Club of Madison County has spread thousands of feet of ramps across homes in Madison County and beyond, helping improve the lives of one family after another.
“You can’t believe how many people we built ramps for that cried,” said Gandy, who recalled going to Clarke County to build a ramp at the request of a woman whose daughter had just three months to live. The dying daughter wanted to be able to get out of the house and see the places she used to go. The crew carried on even after a run-in with a permitting official. Gandy said the official told him to stop building. He said, no, the woman’s dying daughter was getting a ramp.
“She’s lying there in this bed and she can’t get up,” said Gandy. “She’s got three months to live. She wanted to drive around a little bit and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop building.”
So the crew kept building…and building…and building.
Saturday marked another yard marker, the 800th ramp. A crowd of Rotarians, volunteers, local leaders and citizens were on hand to see the ramp crew blitz their way through another construction project. What used to take a number of hours is now more appropriately measured in minutes.
And there is always a need.
“We have never, ever been without a ramp list,” said Rotarian Ed Brown. “I added two more yesterday. I’ve got to visit sometime this weekend and see where they’re going to be placed on the list.”
The 800th ramp was for Sonya King on McCannon Morris Road. Both Sonya and her husband, Jimmy King, were teary eyed Saturday, mourning the loss of Jimmy’s mother, Jeanette, who was wheelchair bound and who passed away Nov. 3.
“Ed (Brown) came here Tuesday morning and was going to measure it, well, that Tuesday afternoon, my mother in law passed away, but he said he was going to go ahead and build it anyway, because of the issues with my knees, because the steps ain’t very easy to get up,” said Sonya King. “In other words, it’s really built in memory of her.”
Jimmy King, a retired Hull Volunteer fireman, who works at Carrier Transicold in Athens, said the ramp “is a blessing” and will really help his wife. The Kings, who attend Faith Pentecostal Church in Hull, made a contribution to help cover the cost of the ramp.
Rotarians and volunteers helped build the ramp in less than an hour Saturday. And group members talked about the club’s motto of “service over self” and of the reward in helping others with the ramp program.
“It’s the signature program for the Madison County Rotary Club,” said Rotarian Mike Williams. “It’s definitely something we intend to promote and keep going no matter how many other projects, how big or how small, that we do as the Rotary Club of Madison County, the ramp program is always going to be something we keep as a driving force.”
Rotarian Wesley Chandler said the ramp program isn’t limited to just club members, noting that volunteers make a real difference.
“It’s just an honor to be able to do things for people, people who have no way of having it done,” he said. “Roy (Gandy) did a good job getting this off the ground and we’ve got good people doing it every time. It amazes me the people who are not a part of Rotary Club who are still a part of this project. It’s a real community project.”
Brown called volunteers in the program up onto the ramp Saturday to receive a plaque of recognition for their help with nail guns, power saws and more over the years. Those receiving “Honorary Membership” into the Rotary Club for their volunteer work included Artry Bishop, Mitchell Hill, Walton Hill, David McGinnis, Johnny Minish, Alan Phillips, Johnny Westmorland and Wade Scarboro.
“Without the volunteers we have in this county that are non Rotarians, we would not be able to conduct this program,” said Brown.
And the ramp building continues.
“I’ve got to visit someone this weekend and see where they’re going to be placed on the list,” said Brown.