An overwhelming community response
This is not a story about one person or two people in need of a simple act of kindness, says Rifle resident Al Scholz. This is about the overwhelming response by a community — strangers who wanted nothing more than to help.
Laying on his back in the living room of his home, Scholz fights through bouts of searing pain and flips through a yellow legal pad; first reading a name, followed by a synopsis of their conversation and what the person was willing to give or do, then a phone number punctuated with a statement clarifying that said person does not want any recognition.
After pulling over two pages in the legal pad only to read from a third, it’s hard to argue with Al.
Al’s wife, Tish McCreadie, is currently in Grace Healthcare of Glenwood Springs. The full explanation for why she is there is a long one and dates back more than 30 years. The short version is that Tish suffers from dementia and in August she fell, breaking her pelvis in three places.
Just days after the fall, Al, possibly jumping ahead of the situation, realized that when Tish returned home — which remains an uncertainty — she would need a wheelchair. At the Rifle Branch Library, he pulled off a piece of paper on a bulletin board for an event that had passed and started writing on the back of it.
“I need a wheelchair for my wife,” he wrote. “She is coming home soon and I cannot afford to purchase one under current Medicare guidelines. I am also disabled but I can get around. My wife is only 61 years old but she has fallen because of her dementia and broken her pelvis in three places. I can pay for a used one. Please call Al.”
The note, dated Aug. 13, was a stab in the dark. Al said he could have never imagined what happened next.
Someone, it is unclear who, took a picture of Al’s note and posted it to Facebook, where it eventually popped up on Laurie Sutliff’s feed. Sutliff, a New Castle resident, decided to give Al a call. After talking with Al and hearing his story, Sutliff reposted the picture along with a message on the Roaring Fork Swap page.
Al started getting inundated with phone calls from numbers he did not recognize. There were messages from Dennis and Alex, conversations with Lola and Sharon, tips from Monk, Karen and many more. Several people offered to give him a wheelchair. The callers spanned from Aspen to Grand Junction.
“The response was incredible,” he said.
Rifle resident Geneva Farr, formerly with Habitat for Humanity, saw the post and met with Al. While he had the forward thinking to try and obtain a wheelchair, he had not thought about how it would get in and out of the house. Farr told him she would see what she could do.
From there, Holy Cross Energy Helping Hands, a community service effort that funds such projects, entered the picture.
Two weeks later, a team of Holy Cross employees were outside Al’s home constructing a wheelchair ramp at no expense to Scholz. Holy Cross has been amazing in supporting the Helping Hands effort, said Sharon Chaney with Holy Cross. And in many ways, she added, the company-wide support is a reflection of the people who call the region home.
“It’s a community, it really is,” Chaney said.
More than a month after posting that note in the library Al still struggles to fully process the response.
‘We’re here for each other’
Those who reached out to Al cite various reasons for why they did, but there is a common underlying sense of hardship — a shared feeling — that they can relate to.
That was the case for Rifle residents Darleen and Carl Schroerlucke, who initially contacted Al offering a wheelchair. Darleen, a former social worker for years, helped alert Al to programs and benefits that could help ease the financial burden of the medical bills that have just started to pile up.
Darleen and her family cared for her mother for 18 years in their own home. Seeing Al planning for Tish’s arrival back home stirred certain emotions, Darleen said.
“It just touched a chord that here’s this man that wants to keep his wife with him and not just put her into a facility,” she said
Sutliff, the woman who posted the message on the Facebook swap page and facilitated a discussion with more than 20 comments, also related to Al’s situation. After suffering a serious medical issue — she declined to go into detail other than to say it was not cancer but life threatening — last winter, Sutliff experienced similar generosity from friends and strangers.
“I just wanted to pay it forward … and I know what it’s like to need help,” she said.
Al ended up purchasing a gently-used wheelchair from Rifle resident Gary Bueghler. It was the perfect size and lightweight. Bueghler, like many in western Garfield County, commutes up valley for work and struggles to keep pace with the cost of living on the Western Slope.
Although he could have possibly sold the wheelchair for hundreds of dollars, Bueghler decided to sell it to Al for a “couple of dollars” after hearing his story and talking with him.
“Al is just a really cool guy, I had no problem giving him the wheelchair,” Bueghler said.
The sense of community — evident in Al’s situation — is why Bueghler continues to fight to live here.
Al’s situation is not an isolated incident, Schroerlucke said.
“We’re here for each other and I see it all the time. … I was born in Rifle, even though we’ve gotten bigger it really hasn’t changed that much. We still care about each other.”
Al’s and Tish’s 35th wedding anniversary is Sept. 26. Odds are it will likely be spent in the Grace Healthcare. In the days after posting the note in the library, Tish’s health deteriorated. She went from being able to feed herself and talk, to largely unresponsive and unable to move her arms.
Al, who suffers from a debilitating degenerative disc disease that has left him disabled, drives to Glenwood and spends time with Tish five or six days a week. The hour in the car causes excruciating pain, but what else is he supposed to do? he asked.
“The house is empty,” he said. “Everything in here in meaningless. I’ve lost my companion.”
Even as Tish shows no sign of recuperating and bills that he cannot pay at the moment pile up, Al still talks about the support from the community.
“I want to thank the people that came when there was need here,” he said. “All those people took time out of their day to help me.”
Those who spoke with The Telegram said they do not need, or necessarily want, a thank you. They were just happy to help.
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Colorado Highway 139 is closed between mile markers 12 to 39 both directions, Douglas Pass, due to a wildfire. The fire is putting off a lot of smoke, decreasing visibility.