The Gift of Mobility

By: Allison Meagher Paoli

Donald C. Kurth
March 09, 1944 - Nov. 17, 2009

We all have a story. Actually, we all have many stories; some are happy and some are not, some are of struggle and hardship, and some are inspirational stories of triumph. This narrative is a combination of each of these elements. It is my honor and privilege to tell the story of a man whose endeavor began before my days as a Rotarian, but whose legacy will continue on for those suffering with polio and other handicapping conditions around the globe. It is a story of true friendship that one man from the Lake Havasu City Rotary Club, AZ, took on in the name of a dear friend. It was Chuck Denney’s mission to make Don Kurth’s struggle and passing a victory and tribute for all who adored him; one man, even though deceased, has made a difference world-wide.

Don Kurth was born in March of 1944. At the age of 18 months, he was stricken with polio. Throughout the course of his life, Don needed an iron lung to help him breathe, braces for his legs allowing him to walk, crutches to lean on, and eventually, a wheelchair for freedom to move about. While many people would have allowed this disease to consume them, Don was not that type of man. He lived his life to the fullest. He was a loving and devoted husband to his wife Sandie, and a wonderful father to their three sons. Don was also an inspiration to his friends.

Everyday was an inconvenience for Don Kurth, but in the eyes of his peers, you would never know it. He was the Manager of the Reverse Mortgage Department of Wells Fargo Bank, and very good at his job; but what most of us would characterize as an hour or less “morning routine” typically took Don two and a half hours to accomplish. Every morning, Sandie would greet Don with a cup of coffee, and together they would work to prepare him for his day. On Mondays, Don went to the Lake Havasu City Rotary Club meetings where his friends would show up early, wait in the parking lot, and stay late to assist him with his wheelchair so he could attend the meetings; and they did so, happily! And although Don could have used a motorized wheelchair, it wasn’t what he wanted. His chair was simple, and gave him the freedom he needed with just the right amount of independence to meet each day.

On the morning of November 17, 2009, Sandie Kurth went to wake her husband, only to find that Don had passed away in his sleep.

Donald C. Kurth was a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International and a Rotary Foundation Benefactor. Kurth’s family requested that the Lake Havasu City Rotary Club preside over his memorial, and they did, with heavy hearts in memory of a friend and fellow Rotarian. Like all of us, there are people who touch our lives in ways that motivate us to commemorate them through acts of good will. For Chuck Denney, Don Kurth was that person.

Denney, a lifelong Rotarian, had been on two life-changing trips internationally with Rotary. In 2004, Denney went with a group to Cairo, Egypt where they actually placed drops of the polio vaccine on the tongues of infants on National Immunization Day. National Immunization Day allows Rotarians to enter countries for vaccination distribution where there is typically civil unrest. They are protected by local military while trying to help the country’s people. In 2005, Denney went to Mexico with Rotary International to distribute new wheelchairs to people in need. Having had these two incredible humanitarian experiences brought R.I.’s polio and wheelchair causes near and dear to his heart. Over the years, Denney recalled these experiences, and has said, “There is nothing in the world like the feeling you get from putting drops of vaccine on the tongue of a baby, or the joy of picking up a person who can’t stand or walk, and placing them into a brand new wheelchair. It is unlike anything I’ve ever felt.”

The sadness that Denney felt after Kurth’s passing gave him a new energy about the two causes that he personally thought were of high importance as a Rotarian. Whether a person was constrained to a wheelchair because of polio, or for some other crippling circumstance, Chuck Denney witnessed the value of the wheelchair through the eyes of Don, and became determined to remember him by raising money to buy and distribute wheelchairs, just like the one Kurth used.

Sandy Kurth, widow of Rotarian Don Kurth, gives Chuck Denney an extra push forward beside Lake Havasu City, Arizona's famed London Bridge.

Jeannie Morgan, District Governor of 5490, appointed Denney to become the “Wheelchair Chairperson” for a period of two years in 2009. Denney researched and found a company who could supply wheelchairs for roughly $125 per chair, give or take. It is the policy of the Rotary Foundation to fund matching grants, so Denney decided the best way to go about raising money for his project was to ask individual contributors to sponsor a wheelchair for about half the total cost.

In February of 2010, during a weekly meeting at the Lake Havasu City Rotary Club, Denney persuaded every member of the club to stand up and donate for wheelchairs. The unanimous reaction gave him the momentum to go to the other two Rotary Clubs in Lake Havasu City, AZ and ask for additional donations. The response to his request continued to be overwhelming; therefore, Denney took his pursuit throughout District 5490. During this time, Denney learned that Jon B. Grant, PDG, in Foster City, CA, was coordinating wheelchair money from his region. We all know the expression: when it rains, it pours… well, when Denney’s fundraising was initiated, the goal was to raise enough money to buy 280 wheelchairs, or one container, but with the help of Jon B. Grant, PDG, George Wheeler, PDG, “Chairman of the District Foundation Grant Program,” District Governor Jeanie Morgan, and Charlie Tegarden, PDG, what was once a “slight drizzle” turned into a “downpour” in wheelchair resources. Collectively, they were able to find wheelchair-designated funds from Rotary Clubs in California and Arizona. With the collaboration and effort of these five dedicated people, along with donation collections and funds previously allocated for wheelchairs, what was once the goal of raising enough money to buy 280 chairs for Mexico, turned into enough money to purchase 2800 wheelchairs that would be distributed all over the globe.

Denney is so grateful to the Lake Havasu City Rotary Club for stepping up to sponsor his endeavor on behalf of Don Kurth. That February day, when the club stood up unanimously, marked the beginning of an incredible journey that would bestow thousands of physically challenged people, along with their devoted caregivers (people like Sandie Kurth), with an increased quality of life.

The details and the passion in this story are far more powerful when told by Denney himself; his undertaking has been a gift of mobility for thousands! It started with a deep level of friendship between two people and the mutual admiration they shared. It transpired because of who Don Kurth was to his fellow Rotarians, and perhaps the most extraordinary part of the story is… that Denney and fellow District 5490 Rotarians were on their way to Puebla, Mexico to deliver the first container of wheelchairs, the week of November 17, 2010; exactly a year from the death of a beloved friend, to indeed, celebrate his life.

Photos courtesy Rotary District 5490.

A young girl recovers in a wheelchair from the Wheelchair Foundation.

January 20th of 2011 marked the one year anniversary of Wheelchair Foundation’s Plane to Haiti relief flight. The opportunity to join among the world’s first responders to the catastrophic Haitian Earthquake, and to be granted permission to land our two plane loads of medical aid, doctors and nurses, is a testament to the work of Global Health and Education Foundation and all of its’ assets. As quickly as Haiti’s tragedy came to the public eye it soon faded, as other world news took precedence.

Just this week, a little over a year and two weeks following the earthquake, we received word from our partners that nearly all 2,600 wheelchairs we have sent to the people of Haiti have been spread across that country. With the help of CARITAS, the HHS Foundation of the Dominican Republic, Rotarians, The Carlos Slim Foundation and
CODETEL, our wheelchairs have reached Port au Prince, Cayes, Jacmel, Cap-Haitien, Fort Liberte, Jermine, Hinche, Port de Paix, Anse a Veau et Miragoane, and Gonaives.

Our efforts to assist the disabled in Haiti will continue, with 800 wheelchairs sponsored by Rotarians staged in Miami, Florida, awaiting transport to Haiti. We will continue to help, as long as there is a need.

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A LOOK BACK – East Bay Foundation Gives the Gift of Mobility

KGO-TV/DT – Written and produced by Ken Miguel, March 15, 2010.

A wheelchair can mean the difference between being bed-ridden or leading a productive life. But in many parts of the world, cost keeps them out of the hands of people who need them. One East Bay charity is hoping to make a difference two wheels at a time.

On the island of San Pedro in Belize, artist Kurt Jason Cruz was attacked in 2006. It left him completely paralyzed.

“I got stabbed in my lower back and neck and was paralyzed for four months and I couldn’t even move from neck down,” he said.

He has regained some mobility, and can now get around thanks to the Danville-based Wheelchair Foundation. The non-profit has given away hundreds of thousands of wheelchairs over the past decade to people in need all over the world. The idea began with developer Ken Behring. Now his sons have taken up the cause.

Read the Full Article on abc7news.com >>

When Chilean Rotarians Brigitte Kusch and her husband, Luciano, had the chance to meet Wheelchair Foundation founder, Kenneth E. Behring, at the Rotary International convention in Los Angles in June of 2008, they were thrilled to have the opportunity to purchase copies of his book Road to Purpose.  In fact, they had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Behring briefly, and have him sign and personalize their copies as well.

Both Brigitte and Luciano felt moved by Mr. Behring’s message of hope, and the personal trials he faced as he sought out the answer to the question of what his “true purpose in life” might be? Road to Purpose afforded them a glimpse into the life that would eventually lead Wheelchair Foundation and Rotary International together in support of helping men, women and children around the world who lack mobility. And both would have an opportunity to personally participate in wheelchair distribution, and witness the miracle of granting others mobility, and see the impact of their own work on wheelchair recipients and their families.

Their experiences with wheelchair distribution allowed them to better understand the significance of their role in caring for their Chilean brothers and sisters, and their fellow man, and brought greater meaning to the work they had already been doing with Rotary. It helped them better see the “purpose” of their efforts.

Flash forward to 2010, when Brigitte and Luciano would return home to Chile, after traveling abroad, to find their home burned to the ground.  An unfortunate mishap lead to a raging fire that consumed nearly everything they owned.  They arrived on site and were told that everything had been destroyed and that a lifetime’s worth of personal belongings were gone.  Still in a state of shock, together they searched through the still smoldering rubble of what was once their home, looking for some significant artifact or relic which they could keep.  Among the charred rubble, lay two slightly burned copies of Road to Purpose.  It caused them to pause and reflect on all of those individuals who had nothing who they were able to help, and realize that all had not been lost.  They both still had their lives, their health and each other.  And beyond any material loss, they had been lucky enough to have gained sense of their purpose here on earth.

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Hi everyone:

I am Renzo Llontop, the Navy Lieutenant who was with you for 2 days in Lima. I write to thank you for being here in Peru, the work you do around the world is really the best job It could exist, to help other people without asking anything in return. I know you’ve had a tiring journey, but I want you to know that really worth it, because you bring happiness to people with disabilities, without whose support would perhaps bedridden or unable to move as they should do. You are an exceptional group, you have a big heart and I know God will bless you for all your life. It was very exciting to see how your work is reflected in the streets, seeing that lady in the main square happy going back to work, with a chair of the Wheelchair Foundation, chairs that were given by you, and improved their life’s quality. Just like that lady must be other 850,000 people in the world who can now enjoy the comfort of being able to move without problems.

You have left a mark on my heart, a mark of generosity and charity for others, I will never forget these days and neither you, be sure about that. I just want to ask 2 favors for you, the first, send me the pictures!! Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera with me these days, so I’ll ask you to share some pictures from your stay in Lima. The second favor is, please never stop doing what you are doing, if there were more people in the world like you, the world would be much much better.

Thanks for coming, thank you for making dreams come true, thanks for sharing these beautiful moments with us, thank you for changing my way of thinking. When you return to Peru, do not hesitate to let us know, here we will receive you with open arms again. I hope to be always in touch with you and the work you do. I don’t have the e-mail of all of you, so please forward this mail to the others. I have nothing further to say that thank you again.

Kisses and hugs for everyone.

Renzo Llontop Espinosa

P.S.: sorry for my bad English, I hope you can understand everything I want to say.

Around the World and Beyond
A tribute to our special friend and role model,
Scharleen Colant

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Scharleen Colant made her first call to the Wheelchair Foundation in 2006. She was aware of our work through her membership in the Rotary Club of San Francisco and wished to become more personally involved. Scharleen was doing a lot of traveling via cruise ships and was headed for Asia.

Joel Hodge, Wheelchair Foundation’s Director of Operations, arranged for wheelchairs sponsored by Scharleen to be available as she traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand in 2007. At stops in Siem Reap and Bangkok, she traveled inland to accompany her gifts of mobility to their recipients. Scharleen experienced such heartfelt joy in giving wheelchairs that she began saying, “Everyone should have the opportunity to sponsor a wheelchair and give it to someone personally. They have no idea what they’re missing.” In December of 2008, Scharleen and her family celebrated the holidays by accompanying nearly 600 wheelchairs she sponsored for Valparaiso, Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas, and throughout the country of Chile.

Scharleen was a faithful participant at our fund-raising events and wasn’t afraid to get on-stage, give testimonials, encourage donors and pledge more gifts. Inspired by the fact that her late husband Ernest had been a pilot, in 2008 when Captain Sullenberger safely landed the plane in the Hudson River, she called us the very next day to donate a container of wheelchairs for New York in Sully’s honor. She strongly supported veterans and chose to accompany her wheelchairs to veteran’s facilities in northern California, where she entertained the vets with a twinkle in her eye.

Scharleen was truly an extraordinary woman – with a sharp mind and humor. She was compassionate, full of joie de vivre, style, a world traveler and not afraid to do or to ask, always leading by example. She enchanted everyone she met (including all of us at the Wheelchair Foundation) with her beautiful smile and enthusiasm for helping others. She energetically participated in the distribution of the wheelchairs she provided and took great interest in the recipients and their life stories. She loved to dance, and if she wanted to dance, there was no way you were not dancing with her!

One of Scharleen’s last requests was to establish a Wheelchair Foundation fund in her memory. She believed in what we do and she left a bequest in her estate to help provide the power to continue our important mission. We are exceedingly grateful for her generosity.
Scharleen will never be forgotten. Thousands of recipients and their families have new lives, full of hope and possibilities, as a result of the wheelchairs she provided. We at the Wheelchair Foundation remember her as an irreplaceable friend and a role model for a life well-lived. As a tribute to our heroine, we have established a fund in her honor.

The Scharleen Colant Wheelchair Fund
You too can honor Scharleen and her work – with donations to “The Scharleen Colant Wheelchair Fund.” Please indicate “Scharleen Colant” when making donations online, via telephone or by check to:

Wheelchair Foundation,
3820 Blackhawk Road,
Danville, CA 94506

Toll-free: (877) 378-3839

I would go around the world to give a wheelchair to someone if I knew it would help them.
– Scharleen Colant