The Ramp Crew, retired members of UAW Local 1219, install a ramp at a home in Columbus Grove - Putnam Sentinel
The Ramp Crew, retired members of UAW Local 1219, install a ramp at a home in Columbus Grove.

COLUMBUS GROVE — “Before we get done this year we’ll probably build 70 ramps,” says Jack Rex, a retiree from Ford Motor Co. and UAW Local 1219. “If they’re small, we’ll build two on a Thursday. We can never catch up.”

Rex is speaking of the ‘Ramp Crew’ team of more than a dozen retired Ford workers, aged 62-84, who now volunteer their time and skills building ADA compliant ramps as well as extra-wide handicap steps for those who don’t yet need a ramp.

When asked about how the projects come about, Rex answered, “Up until four years ago, I had to send out to get money. I’d send out the notice, people would donate, and we’d raise about $40,000 a year that way. Then Ford and UAW negotiated in their contract that [Ford] would buy the lumber. Before that, about five years ago, Ford furnished the truck and the trailer. We don’t charge anything [for building the ramps and steps].”

For details on how the projects themselves are organized, Rex directs attention to one of the other volunteers, Bill Roeder.

“Too long,” Roeder says when asked how long he has been volunteering, “About 12-13 years,” he then answers more seriously before adding, “The ramp building has been going on for about 28 years.”

Roeder is the one who visits each site and determines if the group will become involved, and if so, if they will build a ramp or steps. He also then creates the designs for each project, ensuring ADA compliance and that the ramps will be built to last. Their goal is for each ramp to last at least 15 years, and they’re not afraid of a challenge. The crew once built a ramp up to the second floor of a building, keeping the ramps grade (how steep it is) within the ADA’s guidelines of one foot of ramp for every inch of rise.

One of the other volunteers interjects, mentioning that both Rex and Roeder were honored this past March as 2018 Jefferson Award winners for their efforts. Roeder quickly turns the honor away from himself, and to those doing the work, saying, “Ford and the UAW furnishes the money to fund us. But, we’re the only one that is all-volunteer. They pay the other plants to do it. [Other plants] can’t get the volunteers.”

According to Rex, when the ‘Ramp Crew’ projects began, they were mainly for other Ford employees and their families. Over the years, they began taking on projects for disabled children and adults, especially veterans.

“These guys, they donate their time and stuff like that. It’s amazing,” says Dave Hoffman, the Columbus Grove resident receiving a brand new ramp this past Thursday.

When asked what it will mean to him when the ramp is completed, Hoffman responds, “It’s going to give me a lot more mobility. Even though I had some mobility when my son-in-law made the first ramp, this will give me more mobility. It gives me the opportunity to go out shopping. I go to therapy twice a week, and this gives me the opportunity for that too.”

When asked how the Ramp Crew learned of his need, Hoffman says, “I heard about it, and then I had my wife make the phone call. They said, ‘Okay.’ A few weeks later a guy came over to the house and took some measurements. Two weeks ago they said that they was going to be over here today to start it.”

The crew had already been at work for a few hours when the Sentinel arrived. At that point, the crew was about halfway completed, and said they would be finished by noon.

“I’d like to give kudos to the Ford retirees who are putting this together,” Hoffman answers when asked if there is something specific he would like Columbus Grove residents to know. “Because without them, I don’t think what we’d be able to get here would be very good. So, kudos to them.”