In his eyes, the gift is merely a loan.
Surrounded by friends and family Sunday afternoon inside the Greenport Fire Department, Bob Jester fought back tears after being surprised with a red handicap-accessible minivan that had been purchased for him through donations collected throughout the community. Mr. Jester, a retired Riverhead science teacher and longtime member of the fire department, was paralyzed from the waist down in August 2016 after falling off a chimney.
His fight to regain use of his legs has been a source of inspiration to so many.
“This is on loan,” Mr. Jester said after seeing the minivan for the first time. “I’ll pass it on to someone who needs it when I get up and get walking again.”
Keeping the gift a secret was no easy task. Mr. Jester attends nearly every fire department meeting and function that his fellow firefighters rarely ever had time alone to discuss it. Mr. Jester said he had no idea what was in store for him when he arrived at the firehouse Sunday. He had been told his grandsons were working on a school project and wanted to see the 1933 fire truck that was restored in 2015.
“From the bottom of my heart I thank you,” Mr. Jester said to everyone inside the firehouse.
Greenport Chief Susano Jimenez spearheaded the project. He knew Mr. Jester was in need for a minivan that could allow him to be self sufficient and travel alone. He started searching online for a used van, made a few phone calls and finally found that fit everything he was looking for.
“He can literally drive himself around and not have to rely on anyone,” Chief Jimenez said.
Through the fire department and private donations, Chief Jimenez and fellow firefighters collected enough money to purchase the minivan. The entire process took less than a month, he said.
The seller, who was in Deer Park and refurbishes used vans, offered to hold the vehicle in time for Chief Jimenez to collect enough money and was generous on the price, cutting about $2,500 from the original listing.
Fellow firefighter Chris Hanold said whenever they try do something for Mr. Jester, he responds by saying to do it for someone more deserving.
“He’s a prime example of a firefighter,” Mr. Hanold said. “He does not give up. He’s still going. He’s the example you want for a firefighter.”
Mr. Hanold said so many people were willing to help when the fire department reached out to collect donations.
“People reached out from everywhere: departments, schools, students that he taught from 40 years ago. Everybody reached out with no problem wanting to help.”
As Mr. Jester looked at the vehicle, he defiantly said: “I’ve got to get walking.”
Photo caption: Bob Jester sits inside his new minivan for the first time Sunday. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)