xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Saunders: Three who are making a difference in the lives of many

Carroll Lutheran Village, a retirement community in Westminster.
Carroll Lutheran Village, a retirement community in Westminster. (Dylan Slagle)

What are older people doing with their valuable time during these days of confinement? I can tell you about three such gentlemen living at Carroll Lutheran Village, ranging in ages 73 to 90, who continue to deserve recognition for what they do to make life better for all generations every day of the year.

John Staehlin, who just turned 90, was responsible for starting Volunteers for Medical Engineering (VME) in 1982, sometimes known as V-LINC and now part of ImageMD.org, while he worked as a mechanical engineer for Westinghouse and Northrop Grumman and realized that many of his ideas could help the handicapped, the goal of these non-profits.

Advertisement

Over 30 years ago Staehlin, with volunteers, retrofitted a historic toll house in Jarretsville, MD for the quadriplegic curator that used sensors and control systems to open doors, lower shelves, control temperature, automatically open drapes, and was equipped with a stair lift. He also worked with doctors to custom build assistive devices, such as a hand-opening device for stroke victims to exercise the hand and get the message to the brain to begin doing that activity again.

More recently he designed a mechanism that would open two doors at once for someone with a wheelchair or rollator trying to enter his front doors. He also designed an apparatus with a bungee cord attached to the head rest of the car’s back seat that acts like a pair of hands inside the car, to assist someone frail to be able to get a rollator into the back of a car. He even built a bicycle that uses two-feet long levers instead of pedals for maximum energy for riding.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Staehlin has 33 patents for his devices, two received last summer for the lever-drive bicycle and opposing door opener. He has been an inspiration to many to give of their time to help the less fortunate. When I worked for the Village, I nominated him for the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame where he won a coveted Geri Award for his work to help people who need help. In 2017 he won the most prestigious Hoover Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for his VME work outside his normal job.

John Staehlin, center, talks with Christina Dixon of Westminster, as she and Sze Wong, left, of Linthicum, and her husband Randy Dixon, right, assemble a custom engineered trike to accommodate a rider with disabilites at CHANGE, Inc in Westminster Saturday, Sept 16, 2017. Staehlin has been selected to receive the Hoover Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in November.
John Staehlin, center, talks with Christina Dixon of Westminster, as she and Sze Wong, left, of Linthicum, and her husband Randy Dixon, right, assemble a custom engineered trike to accommodate a rider with disabilites at CHANGE, Inc in Westminster Saturday, Sept 16, 2017. Staehlin has been selected to receive the Hoover Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in November. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Staehlin’s sidekick these days is 88-year-old John Newcomb with an electrical background and the ability to wire the electrical circuit for the remote that opens the two front doors (above) for the handicapped to enter easily. The two have been working together locally on fixing wheelchairs, rollators, and power operated vehicles (POVs), now concentrating on POVs for residents of the Village. They have loaner POVs for which the resident only pays for the batteries at a reduced cost. For the resident who owns a POV, Staehlin and Newcomb will make minor repairs and get batteries at a discount with no charge for labor. Any minor fee that is charged goes into a maintenance fund for future purchases.

Although Newcomb does a lot of the POV work in his apartment, he and Staehlin have been given rooms to work at the Village when more space is needed. Newcomb gives much of the credit to Staehlin for being the mastermind behind all the work done by the entire group. And Staehlin praises Newcomb for being an “uncanny, devoted person,” who has things done from a mere mention. Newcomb also keeps stellar records on all the equipment.

Seventy-three year-old mechanical engineer Dave Hall, a 2018 inductee into the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame, joined John Staehlin’s VME group soon after coming to the Village.

Advertisement

He has taken over the work of repairing wheelchairs and rollators, again for no charge to residents. His work with ImageMD/VME has broadened considerably in two areas. As the leader of an ImageMD/VME group, he focuses on building custom bikes and trikes for disabled children at clinics.

Dave Hall built a tricycle for Garrett Eckard, 15, that allows him to use his hands to pedal it.
Dave Hall built a tricycle for Garrett Eckard, 15, that allows him to use his hands to pedal it. (Ken Koons/Carroll County Times /)

One of his proudest achievements was a custom designed and built hand-powered tricycle for a child with spina bifida. He also designed a caregiver rear steering device that allows the caregiver to steer, push and brake the tricycle for children that need extra assistance. And he designed a remote-controlled brake device that allows a caregiver to safely stop a child on a “runaway” bike. All these devices are built at the Village’s wood and metal shop, where Hall can weld and paint to make bikes look new!

In a second area, Hall became secretary for the Carroll County Federation of the Blind where he is a “sighted” volunteer. As such he cleans and repairs Perkins Braille Writers for Carroll County Public Schools. He has also trained personnel from the Maryland Library for the Blind on repairing their writers and produced a repair manual that is available to other groups for their own repairs. He even builds small wooden custom “tables” for each student—one for school and one for home—that hold the Braille paper flat.

Hall’s skills have also been used to custom build many other devices for the differently abled: a custom horse mounting platform designed for special needs children at Calm Acres, a therapeutic riding facility; a feeding device for a veteran with ALS that allowed him to feed himself and brush his teeth; custom tricycles with steering and remote brakes donated to Carroll Springs; a custom chair for a severely disabled child at Change, Inc. that allows her to be moved easily. Still other items include two wheelchair accessible cribs, each crib costing $450, with the instructions published on Instructables for others to build; and a custom walker for a double amputee who had been confined to a wheelchair for over 10 years.

For these very bright and industrious volunteers there is no shortage of work to be done to keep people moving and learning free of charge. While this short column could not possibly do justice to the accomplishments of these three, they deserve much credit for their continuing contributions to make life easier for many.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement