Hitting the trail for Wounded Warriors

Ron Stephens is a registered pharmacist, former Illinois Assistant Republican House Leader and a combat-veteran. He was shot in the head, shoulder and understands the long road to ­recovering a wounded warriors face.
Ron Stephens is a registered pharmacist, former Illinois Assistant Republican House Leader and a combat-veteran. He was shot in the head, shoulder and understands the long road to ­recovering a wounded warriors face.

I am a part-time pharmacist at Dale’s Southlake Pharmacy in Decatur. The owner Dale and I met at a fundraiser a few years before he invited me to work a Saturday for him, and now I’m fortunate to be the regular weekend pharmacist. I’m lucky to have a job, but luckier to be ­associated with Dale and his family.

To say that Dale, his wife, Rita, and their adult children are active in their community would be an under­statement. Individually and as a ­business, they are among Decatur’s most humanitarian families.
So, I was not surprised when Dale returned from a buying/education seminar where he heard a touching story delivered by an American Hero talking about the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and said, “Let’s find a way to help them,” which roughly translates to “this is your project, you better get busy.”

Dale’s daughter, Lauren, was the real force behind our efforts. My contribution was the idea that we could convince customers, friends and supporters of Wounded Warriors to donate $100 for every mile I walked over Memorial Day Weekend. But, besides the wounded warriors, my inspiration was my devoted wife Lisa. She encouraged me and supported my efforts.

The Wounded Warrior Project provides vital programs and services to severely wounded service members and veterans in order to support the warrior’s transition to civilian life as well-adjusted citizens, both ­physically and mentally. The mission of the WWP is to honor and empower them, raise awareness and enlist the public’s help for the special needs of our severely wounded. WWP meets all twenty standards of charitable organizations by the Better Business Bureau.

The good people of Decatur knew, instinctively, that WWP was a noble project. It was heart-warming to witness so many people place hard-earned cash in the donation boxes set up in Dale’s Southlake Pharmacy.

Better yet, people we had never met came in to make donations-large and small. My favorite was an elderly lady who carefully pulled up to our drive-thru window. I was lucky enough to wait on her and she asked, “Is this The Wounded Warrior Pharmacy?” “Yes, I guess it is,” I responded, as she handed me a few folded bills to place in our donation box. It felt like a million dollars.
Several very generous friends wrote big checks. My friends in the Illinois Legislature (spurred on by Rep. Jim Sacia) collected more than $3,500. There are remarkable people all around! Cardinal Distributing stepped up and matched dollar-for-dollar ALL donations we received.

Our goal in 2012 was to raise $4,200, and I would walk from Decatur to Springfield. As fate would have it, I walked in what was probably the hottest and most humid weekend of the year! My wife stayed in Decatur and was prepared to scoop me off of the hot pavement and replenish my fluids at a moment’s notice. When she appeared for the mid-day check- in, she was a sight for sore eyes (and sore feet)! I managed to walk all the way, only to find out that the good people of Central Illinois had raised $13,800! I was proud to walk another 98 miles over the next month.

We expanded our goal this year and I set out to walk from Decatur to St. Louis (down Route 51). The weather was, thankfully, milder and I was rained upon on more than one occasion. My faithful wife was my pit crew and made sure I was out walking and picked up at rendezvous points. Her heart was in this nearly as much as mine, since she is currently married to a soldier, and formerly married to a now deceased Marine. Four of our children are serving in the military, and, being a Daughter of the American Revolution, she was a great supporter.

Ultimately, I arrived at the newly-named Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge (under construction over the Mississippi River) to be told I was not allowed to take my picture on the bridgework site or to even be standing at the site, unless I was escorted by an IDOT or MODOT official. The consequences of inaction were to be arrested. I contacted my good friends at IDOT and with much interest and some humor, an IDOT official quickly came to escort me up to the bridge work site in order for my picture to be taken with a veteran’s memorial sign in my hand. I walked 317 miles total, and we raised nearly $30,000 this year!

I’m an old infantryman. That’s basically how we came up with the idea of walking. It’s what I do. But, it meant so much to all of us at Dale’s Southlake Pharmacy when a ­recovering wounded warrior approached as I began this year’s walk and said, “Thank you for walking, because I can’t.” My response, “You can’t now, but someday you will.”