October 9, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Want a lift? Valerie’s volunteer drivers know how it’s done

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Valerie Kibala, left, arrives at Cape Memory Care, the nursing home where she works, after receiving a ride from Ann Lilljedahl, one of several volunteers who drive Kibala to work from a South Portland bus stop.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Ann Lilljedahl of Cape Elizabeth drives Portland resident Valerie Kibala from a South Portland bus stop to where she works in Cape Elizabeth. Kibala's long daily commute includes two buses each way to and from her home in Portland. Lilljedahl is one of three volunteer drivers to help Kibala.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Then, in late August, still in Utah, Priscilla got sick. So sick that she’s now in an intensive care unit there, recovering from surgery she had last week.

“She’s coming along,” reported Mel by telephone on Tuesday. “She’s getting up and walking around, so that’s a real good sign.”

Priscilla’s also on the phone – a lot.

“I asked her who she was calling the other day,” Mel said with a chuckle. “And she said, ‘I’m just calling to make sure they’re still taking care of Valerie!’ ”

That they are.

Suzanne handled all the morning rides until she finally headed for Utah to help out there. Since then, Ann and Carol have carried the load themselves four days a week, with volunteers from Valerie’s church picking up the fifth.

Valerie’s reaction to this out-of-nowhere kindness?

“I say, ‘Thank you, God! Thank you, God!’ ” she said with a broad smile as she rode in Ann’s front passenger seat. “If these women no give me rides, no job for me. And my life would be difficult.”

Still, you’ve got to wonder: Why would four perfect strangers do such a thing not once, not twice, not three times, but for as long as Valerie keeps getting off that bus? We’re talking 350 individual rides – and counting – since Priscilla first peered through the slush on her windshield and wondered, “Where could she possibly be going?”

Priscilla has kept at it, according to Mel, because “that’s Priscilla. When somebody needs help, she’s there.”

Carol does it because her late husband immigrated with his family from Germany to the United States in the 1950s. “I know what they went through and the help they received.” she said. “So I thought, ‘I can do that too!’ ”

Ann does it because she’s a walker herself and cringes at the thought of tacking those 5 miles onto an already exhausting day. Besides, while Operation Valerie has lasted twice as long as she expected, Ann said, “I couldn’t abandon her now!”

Suzanne does it to support Priscilla and because Valerie, in her opinion, “is an amazing woman. She has to take two buses to work and then, before Priscilla started picking her up, she was walking that whole distance just to get to work. Every single day.”

Appreciative as Valerie is, she has her sights set squarely on the next step in her upward mobility. She has managed to buy a car and has passed her written driving examination, although she recently flunked the road test for her driver’s license and eagerly awaits a second chance.

“My problem is the parking backup,” Valerie said. “Parallel parking backup.”

“I’m sorry to tell you this,” Ann told her upon hearing the bad news. “I’ve been driving for 70 years and I still can’t parallel park.’ ”

She’s too busy providing a lift.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

Twitter: @billnemitz

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