By Darren Lum
Bill Schmitt laughs about how there is absolutely no crossover of skills from his career as locomotive engineer with CN Rail and driving people to their medical appointments for the Wheels of Hope program, as run by the Canadian Cancer Society.
The Haliburton resident said he wanted to give back in some way since he retired in 2018. He encourages others to become a driver to ensure cancer patients get to their appointments.
“During my working years, I couldn’t commit to say, ‘Okay, on Tuesday, I’m going to pick somebody up and drop them off,’ it was just impossible,’ he said. “So, once I retired, I wanted to do something and give back to the community.”
Schmitt said, as far as he knows, he is the currently the only available driver for clients that live in Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes.
“It’s situation critical for them, right now,” he said.
Most of his drives are to Peterborough and Oshawa, but there are a few trips to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, or the odd one to Barrie and Newmarket.
The reason he drives is because of his friend, Stan Miksovsky. The two met at 14 while attending Fort Erie High School. They were friends for 42 years until Stan died of cancer at 56.
“And the summer of 2019, my best high school friend called me to say he had just been diagnosed with cancer. So, I was there – he is retired military. So, I was there when he died. I vowed to his widow that I would do something in his memory. So, that was that. I always wanted to volunteer, but this is what drew me to the Cancer Society. Having someone close to you. Affect you,” he said.
He applied in October 2019 to volunteer as a driver. Like everything in the world, the Wheels of Hope program stopped by March 2020. It resumed August 2020 and so did Schmitt.
Since he became a driver for the Wheels of Hope, Stan’s widow has appreciated and loved what Schmitt has done in her husband’s memory.
He said in addition to his friend being his inspiration for him to help other people enduring cancer, it’s also about giving back to the community, which has been at the heart of the discipline he has applied in giving hours of time he gives to driving clients.
“So, the thing for me is I’m retired. I have time to give, so volunteer to something and give back to society,” he said.
To become a volunteer driver you need minimum $1 million liability insurance and a license in good standing. To apply for the position you can go online to cancer.ca/volunteer or you can phone the general line 1-888-939-3333.