I did not expect the tears. I was standing in the parking lot at the Car Repair Company in Scottsdale on Friday morning to watch the Dobson Ranch Kiwanis Club hand over the keys to a van to the Arizona chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
This figured to be an upbeat affair. At least it started out that way.
The van’s owner, Leo Lesparance, donated the van to the Dobson Ranch Kiwanis Club. The Car Repair Company serviced the van and made some minor repairs. Adam Gruender, owner of a Big O Tires store in Scottsdale, donated a new set of tires. They were all there Friday, along with Ben Garcia of the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
So, no, I didn’t expect the tears. And I certainly didn’t expect them from Kerry Larsen.
Larsen, 59, is a mechanic at the Car Repair Company, and the man who set in motion the events that would lead to Friday’s ceremony. I wouldn’t say he presents a menacing appearance. But he is stocky and his greased-stained hands are hard and calloused. He didn’t seem to be the sentimental type at all.
Larsen was telling me the story. One morning, Lesparance dropped in to have the van serviced. As Larsen put together a list of things needing repair, Lesparance wondered aloud if it was worth the trouble. Lesperance, who is disabled, had a newer van. This one had been sitting idle for months.
“He said, ‘What do you think I should do with the van?’” Larsen said. “And I said, “I’ve got the perfect deal for you.”
As he was telling the story, I was looking down at my note pad. Larsen had quit talking. I looked up and was surprised to see tears in Larsen’s eyes. It took him a couple of minutes to regain his composure and continue the story.
Larsen and his wife, June, helped start the Dobson Ranch Kiwanis Club three years ago. So he suggested Lesparance donate the van to the Kiwanis. Lesparance agreed and Larsen asked the shop owner, Jim Atkinson, if he would allow him to make the repairs for free. Gruender donated the tires.
When George Meegan, the president of the Kiwanis Club, found out that the van was handicap-equipped, he knew what to do. A former Marine, Meegan contacted the Paralyzed Veterans of America, which was thrilled with the donation.
So it was a nice, feel-good story. And I wondered what could have prompted Larsen’s tears.
Near the end of the ceremony, I asked Larsen if his wife was among the handful of people who had gathered for the ceremony.
“She died Christmas Day,” he said.
And then I understood.
June Larsen had been the driving force behind starting the Dobson Ranch Kiwanis Club. So for Larsen, the work he did on the van went beyond the typical service project. It was a tribute to his wife, who died of cancer at age 58.
“Yeah,” Larson said. “This is special to me.”