SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP — Ricky Ormsby saw the construction of Blue Jacket Court as an easier way to drive his motorized scooter to Dairy Queen.
Ron Parr viewed the extension of the Shawnee Township road as the final job before embarking on his dream of being an elk hunting guide in Colorado.
Fate reminded them, and us, that doing something nice really can change another person’s life.
“This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to construction,” Ormsby said, sitting in his Rascal scooter at the edge of the parking lot of a shopping center, about 10 feet from the new road. “But it’s enough. I just like watching them.”
Ormsby, 56, has muscular dystrophy. For the past 15 years, he’s been severely limited. Three years ago next month, he moved into Shawnee Manor for what he hoped would be a six-week rehabilitation stint. (For full disclosure, my wife is the administrator there, and she told me about the unique relationship between Ormsby and Parr.)
Life slows down when you have muscular dystrophy. Some things Ormsby used to love doing, such as flying remote-control airplanes or working at Randall Bearings, just aren’t possible when your muscles weaken over time. You resort to watching things. One man can only watch so many movies, Westerns and Reds baseball games on TV, though.
When the first contractors started moving loads of dirt around the site a few hundred yards away from Shawnee Manor, Ormsby drove his motorized scooter out as far as he could and watched, from that corner of the shopping center’s parking lot.
He came back the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, for about an hour each morning.
Construction workers often get an audience, Parr said, but not like Ormsby. Most people want to know when a project will be done. Ormsby respected their work and asked questions about every step of the way.
“Every day, as long as I’ve been coming here, in the heat of the day or the cold, unless it was raining, he’s come out here and watched this whole thing go in,” said Parr, who retired after 35 years with the Allen County Engineer’s Office and picked up this job as project inspector for Shawnee Township on general contractor Hume Supply’s job.
About a month into construction, Parr’s crew gave Ormsby his own orange hardhat. With black marker, they wrote his name on the brim.
“At first, that was to help recognize him, for safety reasons,” Parr said. “He can be so quiet, and he can’t move very fast in his chair. But I guess it made him feel like part of the group.”
Parr talks with Ormsby frequently, giving him updates on what the crews will do and why. Now Ormsby sounds as if he could be a supervisor there, explaining in detail about the size of the pipes, where they’re running electricity and how they used mats adhered to the road for road markings.
“The guys are all nice and yell ‘hi’ to me, and the truck drivers wave on their way by,” Ormsby said. “But Ron, I don’t even know his last name, he talks to me a lot about what’s going on and why. He answers any of the questions I have.”
Motorists will appreciate Blue Jacket Court as another way to move north and south in Shawnee Township, especially once work begins on a planned roundabout at the intersection of Fort Amanda and Shawnee roads. Ormsby will appreciate the adjoining bike path, where he can ride in his scooter safely.
That same bike path keeps Ormsby from getting to the fresh blacktop on the finished portions of Blue Jacket Court, though. He can’t ride his scooter over the gravel, so he can only see the portion of the road visible from this post in the parking lot.
If the weather holds out and no new issues pop up, workers may pave the bike path by the middle of this week. Parr already told Ormsby he’ll be the first person to use the path when it’s ready, perhaps by the end of the week.
“I want to take him down and give him the grand tour. He can’t see so much of this project. I want him to drive down there and see what we’ve been doing all this time,” Parr said.
Before long, the job will be done. The two will go their separate ways, pursuing their passions.
“I’m looking forward to that bike path opening, and I can ride all the way down to the Dairy Queen,” Ormsby said.
Most construction projects feel the same, Parr said, but this one is different. It should be his last road construction project, an “end to my means,” he said jokingly.
“At the end of July, I’m going to Colorado for school to learn how to be a professional elk hunting guide,” he said. “After 35 years of working hard, I’m finally going to do something I want to do. I’m just passionate about hunting and fishing.”
When Blue Jacket Court is finished, people will likely only notice the smooth, finished road. They won’t notice the 3 to 4 feet cut down from ground level for one part of the project or the 5 feet of fill dirt used on the other end of it. They don’t think about the work spent running the utilities along the road.
They certainly won’t think about the people who struck up an unexpected relationship, such as the scooter-bound man with muscular dystrophy and the retiring worker headed off to lead elk-hunting expeditions.
Ormsby will always have orange hardhat and memories of his daily visits to the work site, though.
“I know some people hate it when they tear up the roads,” Ormsby said, looking out across the nearly completed project. “But I think I might miss this when they’re done.”