Opinion

A Lifetime of Kindness Is Rewarded

Sometimes — not very often, but sometimes — life really does imitate art.

In this case, a Frank Capra movie — specifically his best-known work, It’s a Wonderful Life. You’ve all seen it; it’s about a man who basically spends his whole life helping others, and when he ultimately needs help, he finds out just how many friends he has.

That’s fiction.

Bob Charland’s life and work aren’t.

He’s better known as ‘Bob the Bike Man,’ or just ‘the Bike Man,’ and you’ve probably read about his story or seen it on television news. Diagnosed with a brain injury and for all intents and purposes terminally ill, Charland, who has always been active in the community, has dedicated the time he has left to serving the community in a number of ways, especially by fixing up donated bicycles and gifting them to children in need across this region.

BusinessWest recognized him for his efforts — and his courage — by naming him one of its Difference Makers for 2018.

Along the way, Charland has had a lot of help with this endeavor, including a donation of a building to store the bicycles from Columbia Gas. And that’s where our story begins to slant toward the life and times of George Bailey (yes, it is that time of year).

To make a long story shorter, Columbia Gas, challenged by issues on the other end of the state, specifically the gas explosions in Lawrence and neighboring communities, was simply no longer in a position to donate the space in Springfield.

He’s better known as ‘Bob the Bike Man,’ or just ‘the Bike Man,’ and you’ve probably read about his story or seen it on television news. Diagnosed with a brain injury and for all intents and purposes terminally ill, Charland, who has always been active in the community, has dedicated the time he has left to serving the community in a number of ways, especially by fixing up donated bicycles and gifting them to children in need across this region.

Charland, with requests for bicycles growing each week, commenced a search for new quarters and wasn’t having much luck because of the large amount of space needed and other logistical concerns, including security.

That’s when the team at Colebrook Realty in Springfield and Tom Dennis, owner of several commercial buildings in Springfield, stepped in to allow Charland to continue writing new chapters to his amazing story.

Indeed, working together, Dennis and those at Colebrook, secured a location in the basement of a warehouse building in downtown Springfield, got the space ready, and even worked out a lease — $10 a month. They were supported in their efforts by local contractors Bierman Plumbing & Heating and BWP Electric, which volunteered services to make the space ready for prime time.

In the larger scheme of things, this is certainly not a big news story. But it’s significant in that it shows the caring nature of those in the business community, and how individuals can and often do step forward to improve quality of life in this region.

When he was introduced at the Difference Makers gala last March, it was said that Charland’s work with the community, not just with bikes, but also with efforts to provide essentials for the homeless and others in need, was among the most — if not the most — inspirational story told in the 10-year history of the Difference Makers program.

It was said that his work and his desire to spend the weeks, months, and (hopefully) years that he has left finding new and different ways to help those in need would inspire others to find their own ways to give back and make a difference.

And this donation of much-needed space shows how prophetic those words were.

Like we said, sometimes life does imitate art. And this time it did. Someone who’s spent a life unselfishly helping others needed some help himself. And he found out just how many friends he has.

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