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Local VA in dire need of volunteer drivers

By Greg Summers

Gregory A. Summers
gsummers@thelancasternews.com
Wayne “Hoss” Knight may be a little past age 60 now, but you can teach the former devil dog a few new tricks.  
Knight, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam era, is a volunteer van driver for the Lancaster County Veterans Affairs office three days each month.
He is one of eight locals who take veterans to medical appointments in Columbia and Rock Hill.
Knight said as soon as he makes sure his passengers are secure and he fastens his seat belt and cranks the van, class is in session. He said there is a camaraderie between servicemen of all ages that is hard to explain.
Through the years, Knight has driven 31,060 miles and 1,694 hours. He has carried 1,113 county veterans to doctor’s appointments and loves every minute of it.  
“Just getting to talk to them is something I enjoy,” said Knight of his passengers, most of whom are World War II and Korean War veterans. “All of them have stories to tell. They’re laid back and enjoy reminiscing. It’s a whole lot of fun.”
Knight said there is little doubt that he gets more from his volunteer service than those he assists. While it is important to serve those who served, he said it goes beyond that. He also volunteers as a driver with local DAV Chapter 14 and is a member of Lancaster Leathernecks Marine Corps League Detachment 1169.
“To me, it’s more like church than anything else,” he said. “The more you put into it, the more joy you get out of it, you know what I mean?”
That same camaraderie is what prompted Charlie Cheney to volunteer as a van driver almost 13 years ago. Cheney started driving for the Veterans Affairs office in 2000 after retiring from Proctor & Gamble Duracell in Lancaster in 1999.
A native of Great Bend, Kan., Cheney celebrated his 78th birthday in May. He joined the U.S. Navy Reserves while he was a high school sophomore. He was called to active duty from 1955 to 1957 and worked as a machinery repairman.
After a 10-year gap, he then served in the reserves for 21 years, retiring from the military in 1988.
Cheney has logged more than 1,529 hours and 27,766 miles of travel as a volunteer van driver. He has carried 769 veterans to doctor’s appointments. Like Knight, he transports veterans three times a month.  
 “Jesus always said we were put here to serve, not be served,” Cheney said. “I really enjoy helping out. It’s very rewarding for me.”
The problem, he said, is the local Veterans Affairs office needs more van drivers.
“I’ve heard from some riders who had to cancel appointments because there was no one to drive them,” Cheney said.
Dena Adams, who coordinates the local effort, said the need is critical.
Appointments are usually scheduled between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in Columbia and in Rock Hill on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The number of passengers on any given day can range from two to 10. Ford Motor Co., provided the van, but there are no funds to pay drivers. Adams said Lancaster County set aside funds to buy a new van later this year. The one that is used now has clocked more than 160,000 miles.  
That’s where volunteers such as Knight and Cheney come in. Adams said you can’t put a dollar amount on what they do.
“Some of our veterans don’t have access to any other transportation at all to get to their doctor’s appointments,” Adams said.
Drivers must take a physical, a tuberculosis test and complete a health questionnaire available at the Veterans Affairs office inside the Lancaster County Administration Building, 101 N. Main St. Staff will mail the  paperwork to Columbia for approval.
Knight said drivers’ schedules are worked around other commitments.
Drivers also receive breakfast and lunch vouchers for the days they volunteer.
“You know, it’s not hard,” Knight said. “Every hour somebody can help is appreciated.”
Volunteers may be other veterans or non-military personnel.
For details, call Adams at  (803) 283-2469.

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Contact copy editor Greg Summers at (803) 283-1156