November 9, 2012

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.

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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.

John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer

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."

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