Ray Nachtwey may be the only person motoring around Mar Vista on seven wheels. When he goes out for a spin, there are two wheels on his motorcycle, one on his sidecar and four on his wheelchair.
Nachtwey, 27, who has been a paraplegic since his spinal cord was severed in a 1981 motorcycle accident, boards the vehicle via a folding ramp extending from the sidecar. Then he straps the wheelchair in with a seat belt.
Along with his dog, Shana, Nachtwey took the vehicle (made by Tomco Enterprises of Valley Center, Kan.) on a six-week, 7,800-mile tour of the United States and Canada in July and August. The trip was mostly uneventful, Nachtwey said, save for the several police officers who stopped him to get a closer look at the vehicle.
After the accident, Nachtwey thought his days of wind-in-the-face motoring were over. He bought a car, but found a convertible didn’t provide the same airy experience as a motorcycle. He also found it troublesome to collapse his wheelchair every time he got in the car.
The sidecar arrangement creates a vehicle that is part motorcycle, part car, he said. “It doesn’t drive like a motorcycle. You don’t bend your body. You don’t put your feet on the ground.”
A second Tomco model, one for quadriplegics, replaces the motorcycle handlebars with an easier-to-handle steering wheel. Linking the special sidecars and controls to motorcycles with automatic transmissions and electric starters are also boons to easy operation, he said.
Nachtwey said the vehicle draws attention wherever he takes it. “People have followed me off the freeway just to ask me about it,” he said.
Calling In to Chip In
Charity, often considered something best practiced by the rich, has taken a populist and high-tech turn locally.
Callers now are able to make an instant $2 donation to the American Red Cross African Famine Relief Campaign by calling (213) 976-2GIV. The contribution is automatically placed on the caller’s telephone bill. Approximately 50 cents of each contribution is paid to the telephone company for administrative costs.
“This is, to our knowledge, the first time a 976 number has been used to raise funds for a charitable organization,” said Owen Minnick, chairman of the nonprofit Candle Foundation that made the technology available for the effort.
According to Solly Laub, chairman of the Red Cross’ campaign, the new system “provides those in the community who wish to help, but who may not be in a position to give a larger donation, an excellent opportunity” to contribute to the relief effort.
He said the American Red Cross is hoping to raise $100,000 during the next three months through the telephone program.
Windy City Reunion
To hear Judi Root tell it, Chicago is a great place to be from. The Northridge resident (“I moved here because of the weather, period.”) is campaigning to bring 1,200 local ex-Chicagoans together for an “All-Chicago Night” on Jan. 18.
“I’m stimulated by the reaction I’ve gotten” from former Chicago residents, said Root, who has placed a sign advertising the reunion on her car.
Root said she believes the reunion is bound to be a success because people from the nation’s third-largest city are friendly. She said when she meets another former Chicago resident, “I feel like I’m talking to an old friend, but I don’t even know them.”
Root got the idea for the reunion after attending a gathering of people from New York. “If New York can do it, Chicago can do it.”
She said the enthusiasm ex-residents have for their city remains undimmed. “It’s always your home in your heart.”
For more information about the reunion at the Park Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles write to: All Chicago Nite, P.O. Box 3434, Northridge, Calif. 91323. Tickets are $18 per person.
DeBolt House Emptying
Robert and Dorothy DeBolt have watched their children leave the nest--some on crutches, others in wheelchairs--18 times.
“We adopted with the idea of getting them out into society,” said Robert DeBolt, who along with his wife eventually adopted 14 handicapped children to add to their six biological children from previous marriages.
The DeBolts, whose hectic household was chronicled in the 1979 ABC-TV film “Who Are the DeBolts? And Why Do They Have 19 Kids?” see their increasing aloneness as a mark of success.
“It does seem a bit empty,” DeBolt said of his seven-bedroom, six-bathroom home in Piedmont, Calif. “But it is a delightful type of emptiness, a fulfilling emptiness.”
Still living in the DeBolts’ three-story home are John Robert, 21, and Reynaldo, 19. “J. R.” is blind and paralyzed from the waist down because of spina bifida. An honors student in high school, he is attending the College of Alameda and hopes to become an attorney.
Reynaldo, who was adopted after the TV movie was made, has a slight learning disability and a leg paralyzed from polio. The teen works as a fast-food cashier and hopes to go into the restaurant business, his father said.
These days, Robert and Dorothy DeBolt devote most of their time to lectures and advancing Aid to Adoption of Special Kids, a nonprofit organization they founded to help find adoptive parents for hard-to-place children. The DeBolts will be on hand Saturday in Covina for the grand opening of the nationwide organization’s 16th office, AASK Southern California. For more information call: (818) 966-1713.
St. Nick Seeking Elves
Nearly three decades ago, Robert George, a former barber from Nebraska, visited the White House in a Santa Claus outfit and was named the official St. Nick by President Eisenhower.
Every subsequent Christmas up to and including the Carter Administration, George returned to greet the Presidents and listen to their requests.
Now living in Glendale and recovering from a heart attack two months ago and five bypasses, George, 61, has a new project:
“I am trying to raise money to give toys to handicapped children, to those who are terminally ill and won’t make it to the holidays. I also need a car to make the deliveries.”
Anyone interested in contributing may reach George at (818) 843-8282, or at P. O. Box 5567, Glendale, Calif. 91201.
Lending a Helping Hand
Joel Wallach, 41, is one of many people who volunteer their time to programs that help abused, disadvantaged or retarded children. What makes Wallach’s contribution particularly noteworthy is that he is mentally retarded.
The West Los Angeles man boards a bus each weekday morning for the Kennedy Child Study Center at St. John’s Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, where he sets tables, puts down mats and prepares classrooms for preschool children. He also helps arrange games for the toddlers.
Wallach said that he likes dealing with children better than with adults, saying that children are “more fun to be around.”
But that doesn’t mean the children can run wild when he is on duty. “I’m not the teacher, but they still have to listen to me. If they don’t do what I tell them to do, I have to get on them.”
Wallach, who has been a volunteer for five years, is proud of what he does, saying that after a long day at work he feels “kind of good, but kind of tired.” He said he hopes to continue his volunteer work with children for as long as he is able.