Ron Ackerman tilts his head to press a switch, causing his electric wheelchair to turn. He puffs air into a tube to make the chair roll forward.
The former carpenter, who grew up doing farm chores in North Dakota, was once the neighborhood helper. When someone needed assistance with a home repair or project, Ackerman showed up with his tools.
Three and a half years ago, Ackerman’s life changed. He remembers listening to 60s and 70s rock 'n' roll music while working on tall scaffolding outside his home in Salem.
Then, he remembers listening to 60s and 70s rock 'n' roll music on the ground.
“I fell head first on the biggest rock in our yard,” Ackerman said. A trace of gallows humor is evident in his voice, but not bitterness.
The accident paralyzed his arms and legs. He calmly tells of predicaments, such as the time when his wheelchair broke down on a sidewalk in Keizer and a half-dozen passers-by ignored his pleas for help.
But Ackerman’s disability hasn’t reduced his innate desire to help others. Children at local schools, where he volunteers, call him their friend and coach.
Why he rides
A Cherriots bus brings him to Morningside Elementary School, where he helps first and second-grade children with their reading. He uses his motorized wheelchair to make the entire trip to Liberty Elementary, closer to his home, where he also works with children.
“When I see smiles on those kids’ faces, it just does my heart good,” Ackerman said.
Before his accident, Ackerman, 70, was a head coach for youth baseball, basketball and football. The grandfather still imparts his knowledge as a volunteer assistant coach for sixth-grade boys’ basketball at Parrish Middle School and Houck Middle School.
To reach the middle schools, he takes Cherriots LIFT, a paratransit service for riders who can’t safely ride regular Cherriots Local buses. Ackerman chooses Cherriots LIFT when a Cherriots Local bus can’t drop him off near his destination.
His greatest concern is being caught in the rain. His electric wheelchair becomes unreliable in wet weather and he’s been stranded before.
But whenever possible, Ackerman said he prefers a regular Cherriots Local bus because the fare is less expensive than Cherriots LIFT and no reservations are required.
Bring a friend along if you’re unsure of your ability to ride the bus, Ackerman said. One of his friends, who uses a wheelchair, helped him learn the basics.
All the transit operators Ackerman has met have been top-notch, providing him assistance as needed, he said. Most passengers on Cherriots have been courteous, too, often helping him with shopping bags attached to his chair.
“There are a lot of people who are genuinely kind,” he said.
Riders with limited mobility need to be patient with themselves the first few times they ride the bus, Ackerman said. He’s become an expert with maneuvering his wheelchair inside the tight quarters of a bus, but the skill took practice to master.
Cherriots also offers travel training, which is open to everyone. For more information about travel training, call Cherriots at 503-361-7571 or visit the Travel Training page.
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