- Associated Press - Friday, February 17, 2017

OLATHE, Kan. (AP) - Jim Simpson sat down in the motorized wheelchair with an American flag sticker on the back, and wiggled his body a bit.

Pretty comfortable. Yep, feels pretty good.

The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/2lHmJjR ) reports Simpson’s family had brought him to the KC Remodel + Garden Show for the second day in a row Saturday just so he could try out a motorized chair they knew he so badly needed. A chair would help the veteran who served stateside during the Korean War get around more, stay mobile and spry like he’d always been before the years slowed his gait.

What Simpson, of Olathe, didn’t know Saturday afternoon - the day he turned 82 - was that a group that outfits veterans and sometimes their close family members with motorized chairs was going to let him do a whole lot more than just try one out for size.

“I understand today is your birthday,” Don Pratt, with AMVETS Riders Chapter 181, told Simpson as he finished wiggling in the seat. “We’d like to give you this chair. Happy Birthday!”

Up until three years ago, Simpson worked full-time hours at a Hy-Vee stocking shelves and even running a cash register. In the early stages of dementia, he’s slowed down a bit and has been using a silver walking stick to help him get around.

“The hardest thing was when I had to take his car keys away from him,” son Rick Simpson, also of Olathe, said. “That was his world. … He’s always been so mobile. Able to do everything.”

The family had been browsing for a motorized chair as they walked the KC Remodel + Garden Show on Friday, the day veterans got in free. They saw a three-wheeler that would work, but it can get up to 16 mph, a bit too fast for Jim’s needs.

Then the family happened upon the AMVETS booth. Recognizing that aging veterans needed motorized chairs that insurance won’t pay for, the group started repairing and restoring donated electric wheelchairs several months ago. Before Saturday, they’d given out seven chairs since August.

“I asked them if they needed a chair and they said that they were looking for one,” said Ben Kelley, with Post 181.

By Friday evening, the Simpsons had filled out an online form, requesting he be put on the list to hopefully one day get one. Daughter-in-law Vicki Simpson mentioned on the form that he’d be turning 82 the next day.

What they hadn’t counted on was someone from AMVETS emailing back within five minutes and wanting a phone number. Within three hours, Rick and Vicki Simpson learned that their dad was getting a chair for his birthday.

“We fast tracked everything,” Kelley said.

Simpson’s family, including his wife Marge, watched as he soaked in the attention and hoopla. They knew what the chair would mean: that Jim could roll around the low-income retirement apartment complex the couple recently moved into, or take a ride down to the Hy-Vee to grab a morning coffee.

But first, Rick Simpson planned to take his dad home Saturday and get in a little practice with the birthday present. The best present, Jim Simpson said, in all his 82 years.

“Right now,” he said, maneuvering the chair forward and then to the left, “I feel 16 years old driving this here thing.”


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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