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November 9, 2012

John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer

Ron Eby, owner of a Windham auto repair shop and a major fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, is one of four national finalists for NASCAR’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.

Steve Solloway: NASCAR recognizes not-so-ordinary guy from Windham

WINDHAM - The horrible sound was followed by a horrible sight. A man walking across a Bangor city street was hit by a car and thrown into the air. Ron Eby ran to help.

He checked that the man could breathe. He felt for a pulse. He tried to comfort the stranger until police or medical personnel arrived.

Joshua Constantine, 37, of Bangor died that Saturday night in early June, the victim of a hit-and-run driver. Eby assured Constantine's family that he did not die alone. Later, a grieving family wrote Eby calling him their angel.

NASCAR has a different name for Eby. The stock car racing organization says this Windham auto repair shop owner is one of four national finalists for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award. Eby is 52 years old but can still blush. Humanitarian is a big word.

"I'm just a simple guy," he said. "I don't have a big house or a big boat. I just like to help people."

Over the past seven years, Eby has helped raise more than $250,000 for Camp Sunshine, a retreat on Sebago Lake that provides an escape and support for children with a life-threatening illness and their families. The camp and its program is located in Casco and open year-round at no cost to the families.

Thanks to people like Ron Eby.

"There's nothing ordinary about Ron," said Matt Hoidal, Camp Sunshine's executive director. "He lives and breathes service to others. He gets pure fulfillment in seeing the load lightened for others."

Hoidal nominated Eby for the award without his knowledge. It goes to someone who has impacted the children in his community. Eby's community is world-wide. Camp Sunshine serves families throughout the United States and 19 countries. He has also organized Thanksgiving food drives and collects toys at Christmas to distribute.

In September Hoidal and Eby learned he was a finalist. The winner will be determined by the number of votes he or she receives on the NASCAR website.

Wednesday, Eby retrieved a folder from his office at Windham Automotive, the repair shop he owns. He showed me the proclamation issued and signed by Gov. Paul LePage, announcing Ron Eby Day on Oct. 12. There was a letter of recognition from Sen. Susan Collins.

And the letter from the Constantine family. This summer, Eby organized a cookout that was also a fundraiser. He hoped they could attend. Yes, it was emotional when they arrived that day.

Eby rubbed his eyes as he talked. The memories of that night can't be erased.

He and his wife, Julie, were in Bangor to listen to the country-folk Zac Brown Band at a riverfront concert. They were walking back to their car when Constantine was hit.

"(Eby) didn't say, 'Oh my God, someone call an ambulance' and let it go at that," said Kelly Moore of Scarborough, a friend and longtime NASCAR driver. "He took ownership. He's a sincere, great guy. He pours his heart into things."

Eby and his family were in need of help in 1978 while travelling across the country. His 2-year-old daughter became ill and was taken to a hospital emergency room in Dayton, Ohio. She was diagnosed with meningitis. Her condition turned critical.

"Next thing we know she needed a spinal tap. She was put on life support. There were no Ronald McDonald Houses then for families. We lived in the (hospital) cafeteria or the halls."

A family visiting a son who had been electrocuted invited them to their home in nearby Xenia for hot showers and dinner. Four years earlier tornadoes ripped through that family's neighborhood. "They described what it was like being under their table while their house was blown away."

Eby's daughter survived. He never forgot his anxieties, the feeling of helplessness and the kindness of others.

About six weeks ago, Eby was a guest of NASCAR at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Sylvania 300. He attended the drivers' meeting and met Mike Helton, NASCAR's president, who patted him on the back.

He was introduced to the crowd of 100,000 before the race and gave them a thumbs-up. He watched the race from driver Clint Bowyer's pitbox. Bowyer drives for owner Michael Waltrip who has NAPA Auto Parts sponsorship. Eby has gone to NAPA in Maine for his fundraising for Camp Sunshine.

So he had to forget for the day that he's a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. So what.

Last month, other Windham businesses put Eby's name on their marquees, urging people to vote for him. Many have joined with him in supporting Camp Sunshine.

On Nov. 30, Eby and a Camp Sunshine family from Texas will be at the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet at a Las Vegas hotel. Betty Jane France, mother of Brian France, NASCAR's CEO, will announce the winner who gets $100,000 for his or her cause. The other three each get $25,000. Each receive a 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

"I tell people to read what the other three have done before they vote. I can't wait to meet the others.

"We were winners when we were chosen. We're able to make an impact on so many people. Families depend on us. We need to leave huge footprints for others to follow."

Voting ends at midnight, Nov. 29. Go to NASCAR.com/award.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway





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