MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 21, 2013

Construction veteran helps kids build lives

(Continued)

Accidents can

change a life

Dan VanKirk survived three accidents, which he said left his back messed up.

The first was a car wreck in the early 1970s.

“It was 24th and Hancock; the girl ran a stop sign,” he said, referring to the driver of the other car. “Six inches would have made a difference. I just hit her at the front wheel, tore the whole front off.”

He said the other car went out into a field and rolled over three or four times. He said he was in the hospital for two or three days, “but I should have stayed longer.”

The second collision was in 1986. Again, a young woman ran a stop sign, he said.

“She hit my back bumper hard enough to roll me over,” he said. “I was in the hospital, messed up pretty bad. I was there a couple of weeks.”

In the third accident, he fell off a scaffold about 15 years ago, breaking his back.

“The boards slipped, and I fell 18 to 20 feet,” he said. “I had a roof project, a big old steep mansard roof. I had a scaffold, and the boards just slipped off.”

VanKirk said he again spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. This time, however, he was not alone.

“Two of my grandkids were in the hospital the same time I was — being born,” he said. “They were cousins, born a day apart.”

He continues to have problems with his back, he said.

“Some days are worse than others,” he said. “Some days I don’t have to do anything.”

Days with

the kids

VanKirk started working for Muskogee Public Schools about seven or eight years ago. His wife also worked at the district.

VanKirk has been driving a school bus and watching kids grow ever since.

His current route takes kids to Cherokee Elementary, Alice Robertson Junior High and Ben Franklin Science Academy. He brings about a dozen AR students to the Muskogee Teen Center each afternoon, he said.

“I’m supposed to be at work at 6 a.m., but I’ll usually be there at 5:45,” he said. “Six-thirty is my first stop. I might be through at 8:10 or 8:15. In the afternoon, I’m through by 4:10.”

He said he gets along with most of the kids.

“I get to talking to them a bit,” he said. “I might ask them about the elements and say, ‘Look at that sun, it’s hydrogen converting to helium.’”

He gets to know some of the kids.

“One girl, I had never seen her smile, but I saw her smile for the first time this week,” he said.

And every child has a story, he said.

“Some of them are ornery and you wonder why. It could be because of their brother, sister or family. It’s all they know,” he said.

VanKirk seeks to be a welcoming presence.

“We’re the first ones these kids see in the morning. I could tell if they’re going to have a good day or not,” he said. “I don’t dislike any of them. Some of them are looking for attention, but they’re not getting it.”

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