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Senior van driver recounts years of volunteering

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Wayne Engstrom, a senior van driver for six years, started a 1998 Ford van one final time Tuesday, June 25, as the transportation service that Pequot Lakes Community Education provided for 30 years came to an end. It was replaced by the Crow Wing County Transit’s Dial a Ride service.

Engstrom, before he retired, spent 45 years in the printing industry working across the country for various companies. Since then, he volunteered with Crow Wing County Transportation for four years and then volunteered for Lutheran Service Society’s Meals on Wheels program for the last seven years and the recently ended senior van service for six years after seeing an ad in the Lake Country Echo asking for volunteers for the services.

“The Lutheran Service Society helped my family in Minneapolis immensely when I was 10 years old after my mother passed away,” Engstrom said, “I thought that it was time to give back to the organization and to others. Volunteering also helps me get off the ranch to see people three or four days out of the week. When you retire, you can become stuck if you don’t actively try to meet with people.”

Engstrom believes the senior van service ending will affect many seniors in the area.

“It’s just not as convenient for the riders of the van. They have become accustomed to the van,” he said, “Now, they will not be nearly as mobile as they were with the senior van.”

One of those seniors, Marlys Lee of Pequot Lakes, said she does not know how she will travel without the van.

“I cannot drive my own car anymore because of my eyesight,” she said.

The senior van drivers took seniors like Lee requesting rides across the area.

“We took them all over,” Engstrom said, “For example, we take them on a boat ride in the fall, to bingo in Jenkins and to the library. There are other things that happen with the van that make it convenient for people as long as there is a driver who will do it and not specifically only on Tuesdays.”

Engstrom made many friends across the area while volunteering.

“I can walk down any place in Pequot or Pine River and recognize many people,” he said, “I think that’s one of the main reasons volunteers want to help out in the first place, to get out and be around other people.”

While wanting to be more sociable, Engstrom believes volunteers like himself shy away from praise in the community.

“No matter who you talk to in the volunteer business, they will be hesitant to talk about their volunteer work,” he said, “Volunteers in Crow Wing County want to stay in the background and not receive recognition. Some might feel that we receive and want all the attention. Nothing could be further from the truth.”