Sunday, November 26, 2000

To many, he's a hero on wheels


Volunteer Floyd Grace brings sunshine along with lunch

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        FLORENCE — Floyd Grace once rescued an elderly woman who had been lying overnight on her floor. She had broken her hip, and she was scared. But she kept thinking, “I know Floyd will be here.”

        He's good like that.

        In 13 years as a Meals on Wheels driver, Floyd Grace has never taken a vacation or missed more than one day of work.

        He worries about the 20 senior citizens on his route, which winds through Burlington, Rabbit Hash and Hebron. The job doesn't pay much, but he wouldn't trade its benefits.

[photo] With meals in hand, Floyd Grace leaves the Boone County Senior Center to make his rounds.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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        “It's very rewarding when you get attached to these clients,” says Mr. Grace, 49, of Covington. “And a lot of them, you're the only one they see.”

        I heard about Mr. Grace from Sy Sypolt, a Florence reader who occasionally volunteers with Meals on Wheels at the Boone County Senior Center. The center offers lots of activities for people, including computer classes, dances, shopping trips and card games.

        Located on Woodspoint Road next to World of Sports, it also serves as a staging area for Meals on Wheels.

        Mr. Sypolt called to praise Mr. Grace and another driver, Don Price of Ryland Heights, who has been on the job 11 years.

        These men are “gentle giants” who treat their elderly clients with great care and respect, Mr. Sypolt says.
       

Chats part of the job
        Also racking up years with the program is Paula Hallquist of Florence, who has volunteered faithfully once a week since 1989. She's a full-time mom who also helps out at her son's high school.

[photo] Floyd Grace (left), who takes meals to senior citizens as a Meals on Wheels driver, laughs with Anna Burris, 74, during a visit to deliver her lunch.
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        Ms. Hallquist, too, is attached to the people on her route. After a while, drivers sense which ones need social contact, Ms. Hallquist says. Stopping to chat for a few minutes is part of the job.

        The socializing comes easily to Mr. Grace, a cheery soul whose other calling is music. Under the stage name “Twink,” he plays percussion with various bands around Greater Cincinnati.

        On his Meals route, some clients answer the door, take their lunches and wave him on his way. Others invite him in for coffee.

        On several occasions, Mr. Grace has driven up to find cars in the driveway and people in mourning. “Floyd,” they say, “Mom passed away.”

        Once he was so determined to deliver a meal that he ran off the road in a snowstorm. Drivers are told not to take any chances in bad weather, but this was early in his driving career, and he was stubborn.

        The car ended up sideways in a ditch. Mr. Grace slid into the passenger seat. He looked up and saw a priest tapping on the window.

        “I thought, "Where am I?'” he says, chuckling at the memory.

        Another time, Mr. Grace's car broke down and he had to walk to the nearest house. His sunny personality so impressed the residents — who were strangers — that they invited him in for lunch, says Rita Colston, one of his former bosses at Senior Services of Northern Kentucky.
       

"Mr. Amazing Grace'
        Several years ago, the staff celebrated Mr. Grace's 10th anniversary with a cake and presentation that included comments from his clients, Ms. Colston recalls.

        One woman called him “Amazing Grace.” Another has described him as “the old people's guardian angel.”

        Last week, Mr. Grace took a moment at the home of Anna Burris, 74, to joke about the elections. He and Mrs. Burris have been together for five years, and they like to kibbitz.

        “We're going to run her for office, and she's going to straighten all this out,” Mr. Grace says.

        “He's going to vote for me, and if he runs, I'm going to vote for him,” says Mrs. Burris, laughing.

        Her husband died two years ago, and she has trouble walking. When Mr. Grace comes by to see Anna Burris, whose husband died two years ago, he not only drops off lunch but also collects mail, sets clocks and replaces batteries.

        “If it wasn't for Floyd, I don't know what I'd do,” Mrs. Burris says.

        He comes five days a week. On Saturdays and Sundays, she feels the absence of a friend.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at (859) 578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.
       



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