Gilpin seniors rally for new van

gilpin van in vanBarbara Lawlor, Gilpin County.   All they want for New Year’s is a new, comfortable, safe van and they are going to fight to get it. Well, they are going to fundraise to get it.

The Gilpin County Prime Timers are tired of being thrown around in their 2003 vehicle that just wasn’t built for mountain roads. They return from field trips with more aches and pains than what they started with and things have gotten so bad, that a few of them have stopped going on the trips that are necessary to their quality of life.

Most of the Gilpin Prime Timers have been attending senior meals and going on field trips for almost two decades. They remember Big Bertha, the present van’s predecessor, the one with the hole in the floor.

In 2003, the seniors were able to purchase a newer van, a 4WD, that from the beginning didn’t seem well-equipped to travel on mountain roads, but the seniors were willing to put up with a few bumps and bruises in exchange for shopping trips and adventures in far away places; well at least farther away than Gilpin County.

Senior Marie Roche says she has been a Gilpin resident for nine years. When she first moved here she didn’t know anybody. She joined the Prime Timer’s in Gilpin and St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Nederland, because her husband liked small churches.

“We liked the socialization and the support from everybody. If we were sick or needed something, people were always there to help. We love Mary Ellen McClosky, the senior coordinator and her two aides, Katy Emmert and Clare Hirsch.”

Marie says that she doesn’t go on field trips anymore because of the van.

gilpin van

“About six months ago we went to an IMAX movie, but by the time we got to Denver my back and hips were hurting. We went down Hwy. 6 and it was very bumpy. Even with seat belts on, we were being thrown around. It was hard to stay in our seats and there was nothing to hold onto.”

Another senior said the van hit a pothole once, in a construction area, and the back of the van bounced so hard she was thrown almost to the ceiling. “I was shocked. I think the van was made for city driving, not for mountain driving.

The seniors have been told the shocks are fine, but they don’t agree. They say the van has always been challenging, uncomfortable. One of them tried out the Nederland van and pronounced the seat cushions far more comfortable than the Gilpin van.

“Riding in our van is like being on the Whippy Dip, or the Wild Mouse at Elitches. It was fun when we were young, but now the bumps and dips exacerbate our spinal problems.” Marie says she was in pain by the time she arrived in Denver and had to see a chiropractor after the trip who told her that her back was a mess. “We try to beat each other to the bus to get the seats near the front,” she says. “When we sit near the back, we slam into each other. Then the wheel well makes us contort our body and we have to hold on awkwardly, but there is really not much to hold onto.”

Marie says she really enjoys the trips to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes but she drives her own car to get there. She just couldn’t handle that long drive in the van.

Prime Timers Director Mary Ellen McCloskey says driving the aging van is challenging, as she has to deal with the steep hills in Central city. “I have to go slow and gear way down and people behind me are not happy. We always have to drive down Highway 6, not Highway 46, because 46 makes the brakes whistle by the time we reach the bottom. It just isn’t safe.”

When the seniors went to the Gilpin County Commissioners to see if they would be willing to help with a new van, they were told there was no money right now, but maybe if they could raise some funds on their own, the county could help them. So the Prime Timers went to work and put the word out. They are pursuing any and all options as they begin this fundraising process.

Carol Snyder, the Prime Timer computer whiz, put together a GoFundMe account on the senior’s Facebook page and so far they have received $55. They have also received $2,500 in private donations, but it is still a long way from their $60,000-ish goal.

Carol says, “We’re all new about the account. I’m not new with computers, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be”

Carol says her husband hurt his back and will no longer travel in the van, so she and the others are eager to raise enough money for next summer’s outings to the grocery store and doctor’s offices.

For some, the van is the only access they have to goods and services beyond their homes. They look forward to a trip to the bank, the post office, Walmart. It is important for them to get out of the house, to get out into the world.

Donations may be made to Gilpin Prime Timers, 15500 Highway 119, Black Hawk, CO, 80422.

The person who would be most grateful is driver Mary Ellen McCloskey, who says the van has always been a rough ride and half the time the heater or the air conditioner doesn’t work.

Judy Hudspeth has been riding the van with the Prime Timers since 2006. “I have back problems and when I am in the van, I tighten up so bad, I have to take Tylenol for the pain. If I sit in the front seat, I am fine, but I get stiff as a board if I am in the back.”

Joseph Hill says he is most concerned about the fact that the brakes are inadequate and the engine needs more power on the mountain roads. He says he needs the transportation of the van when his driver has his car. “Some people just don’t have any way to get around unless they take the van.”

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.