Updated Thu, Jan 30, 2014 11:14 am
When former American Red Cross local chapter director Sandy Shirey read about a Glouster man’s work to keep those in wheelchairs rolling forward, she knew who she would be nominating for the annual volunteer Hometown Hero award in her name.
Ken Bussart is this year’s recipient of the Sandy Shirey Volunteer Award — an honor that is given at the annual American Red Cross of Southeast Ohio’s Hometown Hero Breakfast. The award is named after Shirey, who served as the local chapter’s director for 23 years.
According to Shirey, she learned about Bussart’s work by reading an article in The Messenger in August.
Bussart was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 and has been using a wheelchair for just over three years. Having a background in mechanic work, Bussart began customizing his own chairs to allow him to keep up with hobbies and activities he enjoyed before his diagnosis.
For instance, Bussart designed an all-terrain motorized chair that allows him to go just about anywhere in any type of terrain — including deep snow. He dubbed his all-terrain chair “Wallie” and customized it with a gun rack to allow him to turkey hunt.
Soon, Bussart began using his skills to do the same for others free of charge.
When he’s not on the road working his day job as fleet supervisor with UPS, Bussart spends his free time in his garage near Burr Oak Lake customizing donated wheelchairs for those who can’t afford them. He’s helped dozens of people remain mobile, from toddlers to older individuals.
When asked how many wheelchairs he’s customized, Bussart said, “Dozens. If you keep track of exactly how many, it becomes a task.”
Bussart said he’s lucky because he can still stand and use a walker for short distances. Some aren’t as fortunate and Bussart likes to make sure those bound to their chair have as much physical freedom as possible. He’s even helped friends climb mountains on his custom wheels.
“With Ken’s skilled help, people have been able to be more active and to continue to be involved in hobbies and things they love to do,” said Shirey. “Ken has continued to be very active with his family, in work and in helping the community.”
Bussart said he was overwhelmed to find out that he will be receiving the Sandy Shirey Volunteer Award at the annual breakfast on Feb. 11 at the Athens Community Center. He said he’s never met Shirey and is looking forward to speaking with her at the event.
According to Bussart, his work to customize wheelchairs over the past couple years has been rewarding.
“Life’s been pretty good to me and I decided it was time to give back,” he said.
The Sandy Shirey Volunteer Award is sponsored this year by Hocking Valley Bank. This year’s Hometown Heroes will be recognized during the American Red Cross of Southeast Ohio’s Hometown Hero Breakfast, which is Feb. 11 at the Athens Community Center from 7-9 a.m. Funds raised at the event will go toward local disaster relief.
This year’s keynote speaker will be former NFL standout Mike Bartrum, who now serves as a Meigs County Commissioner.
Tickets for the breakfast are $20 each or $175 for a table. For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.redcross.org/oh/athens, call 593-5273 or stop by the office at 100 S. May Ave., Athens.