Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 28, 2008
Johnson's dream sails on Ghost Lake
Handi-Boat provides outing for elderly and the handicapped
- photo supplied
The Handi-Boat sails across Ghost Lake, providing another happy outing for the elderly.
By GLEN ARGAN
Bob Johnson would be pleased. "Bob was a phenomenal ideas man," Ron Kaczmar says of his brother knight in Father Albert Newman Council 8470 who died in 2000.
Johnson spearheaded development of the Magic of Christmas program that takes "busloads of gifts" to shut-ins and hospital patients in Calgary.
Another of his big ideas was the Handi-Boat. It came to him when he was recovering from a stroke in 1997. Johnson was an avid fisherman and outdoorsman.
"During his recovery period, he determined there wasn't much in the way of outdoor activities for handicapped people," Kaczmar recalled.
Johnson set out to provide an activity - a pontoon boat, custom designed for wheelchairs, that would enable the handicapped to have an outing on the waters of Ghost Lake west of Cochrane.
He approached the recreation directors of nursing homes and got an enthusiastic response. Then he lined up grants from the provincial government and corporate donors to foot the bill for the $50,000 boat.
The Knights provided the organization and the labour to make the project work. On June 7, 1998, the grande launch of the Santa Maria took place with 350 people in attendance.
Room for 8 wheelchairs
The 24-by-10-foot boat can accommodate up to 16 guests, including eight wheelchairs. Every summer season, the Santa Maria makes 30 to 40 excursions, providing an outing for 400 to 600 people.
Those making use of the service come from hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, and disabled and seniors organizations.
They are treated to an outing roughly four hours long. After an initial boat ride of about an hour, the Santa Maria docks in a quiet cover or on a beach where the crew fires up the on-board barbecue.
Everyone enjoys a lunch of anything from hot dogs to spare ribs and those who wish may get the opportunity to do a little fishing. Then there is the hour-long return trip across the reservoir.
"It's absolutely incredible when you take people out for a day of fresh air and sunshine and see the smiles on their faces," said Kaczmar, who is now president of the Handi-Boat Society, the charitable organization set up to handle the project.
About half those who benefit from the program are handicapped children, he said. "The children absolutely love it."
The Knights are still active in the project, he said. All six captains are knights as are the majority of the 25 volunteers involved in running the Handi-Boat.
"It was Bob's vision that we would have a fleet of these boats," Kaczmar said, with boats located in both Red Deer and Edmonton. It hasn't happened because members of the society have been so busy meeting the needs of the handicapped in the Calgary region.
On June 21, the Handi-Boat Society will gather at Ghost Lake to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The program will include a tribute to Bob Johnson. Johnson has been dead for eight years. But his big idea lives on in the smiles of those treated to a ride on the Santa Maria.