Veteran gets new wheels from fellow vet

By Frances Taylor - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Sun., May. 22, 2011
Charles Greenwald bought a new red wheelchair-accessible Toyota van, and donated his 2005 van to Bert Francoeur. Photos by Frances Taylor.
Charles Greenwald bought a new red wheelchair-accessible Toyota van, and donated his 2005 van to Bert Francoeur. Photos by Frances Taylor.

For the past few years, Berton Francoeur has seen his freedom and independence fade away. As a double amputee, he must use a wheelchair to get around, and as a resident of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in West Haven, the hospital van was often unavailable when he needed to travel.

“I know other vets there who hadn't been able to get out in two years,” Francoeur said.

Charles Greenwald, a resident of Glastonbury, was in the process of selling his 2005 van and buying a new 2011 Toyota van that was wheelchair accessible. Greenwald, 72, a Vietnam veteran, wanted to know if another veteran might need his old wheelchair-accessible van.

Wheelchair vans like Greenwald's enable a disabled person to drive and move about independently. These adapted vans allow a wheelchair to drive in through the side door, and the person to move either to the driver's seat or the passenger's side. “I wondered if there was another veteran out there that could use it,'' Greenwald said. He wished to donate it rather than sell it, he added.

Ride-Away is an East Hartford company that specializes in vans made by Braunability, a manufacturer of wheelchair-accessible vans. Greenwald told Roland Grundman, a Ride-Away consultant, about his plan to help another vet.

“In the seven years that I have been here, I have not had a customer who wanted to donate their van instead of trade it in,'' Grundman said. A new van can costs around $50,000, and a trade-in can be worth $10,000.

By coincidence, Grundman knew that Francoeur had been trying to raise the funds to buy a van for several years, and he offered to get the two men together. When Francoeur got the call from Grundman, Francoeur said he almost couldn't believe it. “I could have jumped out a window, I was so excited,'' he said. “My daughter said, ‘Are you sure you heard right?’”

Greenwald and Francoeur, accompanied by family members, met for the first time May 14 at Ride-Away on Pitkin Street. “Now it will be much easier for my dad to visit us, and for him to go to dinner with friends,'' said Ann-Marie Weyler, Francoeur's daughter. “Being able to go out and to go where he wants is just so important.''

Francoeur plans to share his van with his fellow veterans at the hospital. “Now I can help whoever else might need a ride somewhere,'' he said.

Greenwald is happy that his old van has a new home at the VA. “I just really felt the van should go to another vet,'' he said.

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