Machinist union members Steve Morrison (left), of Marysville, and Mike Hill, of Stanwood, work to install a wheelchair ramp at a home in Marysville on Saturday, May 27. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Volunteers build wheelchair ramps through Machinists program

MARYSVILLE — When Ed Page’s wife, Sue, needed a wheelchair, he built a do-it-yourself ramp to get her in and out of their Marysville home.

Page is good with his hands. After serving time in the military in Vietnam, he worked for Boeing as a mechanic for 36 years. He worked on every commercial jetliner from the 707 to the 777 during his time there.

But, as Page admits, he is not a master carpenter, and his ramp was proof.

“It had bumps and a three-inch drop,” he said.

Three times a week, he has to take his wife to dialysis.

“It was getting harder and harder to get in and out,” Page said.

The retired mechanic has a hard enough time getting around himself and often uses a cane, he said.

Then Page found out about a program run by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District Lodge 751. The union represents about 30,000 Boeing workers around Puget Sound. Page was a member for decades.

The IAM program builds wheelchair ramps around Western Washington for people who need one. The program is open to anyone, not only former or current union members.

The United Way helps pay for supplies if money is tight for a person, said Adrian Camez, a Boeing worker and IAM member. He helps run the ramp-building program, which is part of the Machinists Volunteer Program.

The group builds about 20 to 30 wheelchair ramps a year, he said.

Camez has been involved in the program for seven years, and he has built more ramps than he can recall.

So, the volunteers have plenty of practice. “It’s second nature for us,” he said.

They can assemble a ramp in as little as 60 minutes, he said. “They take anywhere from an hour to five or six” for complicated jobs.

After Julie Martin’s husband had a stroke earlier this year, his coming home depended on having a wheelchair ramp added to their Arlington-area home. Camez and a crew of Machinists were out there in April and quickly had their work finished.

“They literally had the ramp up in 75 minutes! I’ve never seen anything like it,” Julie Martin said.

“They were shouting out dimensions, cutting pieces in the driveway and hammering them together,” she said.

The reward is unrivaled for Camez.

“When you go out to a site, sometimes people say they haven’t been outside in six months,” he said. “It crushes us to hear that.”

With a crew of three to 15 people measuring, hammering and nailing, they have a ramp up in short order. But what seems so small in terms of labor, means so much to the recipients.

“It’s just a great feeling to see the smile on people’s faces when they use it for the first time,” Camez said.

Ed Page was plenty appreciative for the work his fellow Machinists put in on a sunny Saturday in late May.

“Basically, it’s having the freedom to come and go,” he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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