LIMA, Ohio - Winters in Florida, lazy afternoons at the beach sipping margaritas and daily trips to the golf course…it’s all in a day’s “work” for Lima Engine Plant retirees.
Yeah, right. Not for this group.
“I need 81 inches,” Bill Roeder screams out over the sound of pounding hammers and buzzing chainsaws. “C’mon guys, we’ve got 10 minutes to finish this up!”
Roeder, a retired superintendent for Ford Motor Company’s Lima Engine Plant (LEP), is keeping a fast pace as UAW-Ford retirees construct a wheelchair ramp at the Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Lima. “This one will take us about an hour-and-a-half,” Roeder said.
The ramp for the soup kitchen is one of approximately 45 wheelchair ramps the LEP retirees will construct and install this year. The group has been at it for about 18 years, and in that time, has constructed over 800 ramps for disabled individuals in Lima and surrounding counties.
“We cover a few counties,” Roeder said. “We’ve been in Delphos and Minster and a lot of other places putting these ramps up.”
Typically, about 20-25 retirees show up for each job. The team works together to ensure everything runs smoothly – most of the time. “We’re running out of lumber,” Roeder screams out to the team. He’s quickly greeted with a few eye rolls and good-natured “ribbing” from his counterparts. “These guys like to give me heck out here,” Roeder said with a laugh. “Quite a few of them worked for me back in the plant, so they really enjoy giving me all the gruff they can out here. But we all have a good time when we get together.”
Jack Rex, president , LEP retirees, is happy to escape the cold Ohio winters for his annual trek to Florida. But it’s certainly not all rest and relaxation. “I’m the guy that has to get all the donations,” Rex said, adding that the stagnant economy has had a definite impact on the group’s efforts. “We have our regulars who continually support us, but it’s definitely been tough with the economy. We’re okay for money this year, but we always have to look ahead to next year.”
During the winter months, Rex sends out letters to businesses and organizations asking for donations of time, money or resources. The local group receives a significant amount of funding from other unions. “The Eagles have always been great at donating to us as well,” he added.
Even when donations are slow coming in, the group has survived and continues its mission of building wheelchair ramps every summer. “Our biggest problem is we have to buy our own tools, but we do it because we know we’re doing a good thing here,” Rex added.
As do the handicapped individuals who frequent the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen. Watching eagerly from the sidelines as the group constructs the ramp, Executive Director Steve Jenkins was overcome with emotion.
“Nobody really understands how much this means to us,” Jenkins said. “We struggle with funding issues every day, and for a group to come in and provide this ramp for us is a blessing. Previously, our handicapped individuals had an extremely difficult time maneuvering their wheelchairs on the old ramp. This will be so much easier on them.”
The crew is getting ready to finish up their summer work for the year, and then it’s back to retirement reality for much of the group. For Rex, that might mean working in his wood shop. For Roeder, it means getting back to his passion for motorcycles.
And for most of them, retirement is summed up in one sentence heard from a retiree as the group puts the finishing touches on the ramp. “Hey fellas! It’s five-o-clock somewhere!”
That it is gentlemen. That it is.