By Leslie H. Dixon
PARIS — Camo is Eddie Curtis’ favorite color.
So it wasn’t difficult for the students and staff at the Oxford Hills Technical School’s automotive collision repair technology class to figure out what color to paint the van they were secretly restoring for him.
On Tuesday, March 29, the 2000 Dodge 3500 van was presented to George Edward “Eddie” Curtis III of Oxford – a 2011 graduate of Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and the auto tech program – and his family in a surprise ceremony at the school.
Curtis has been wheelchair-bound most of his life and needs a vehicle equipped to handle his specialized chair.
“He stopped walking when he was 2,” said his mom, Patricia Larrivee. “He has spinal muscular atrophy – a form of muscular dystrophy.”
“I knew Ed was into camouflage,” said his former instructor Fred Steeves, the Oxford Hills Technical School Auto Collision Repair program instructor, of the decision to paint the dark green van with a camo detail.
Curtis was speechless when he realized why he was there.
“I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “Wow … it’s amazing.”
The auto collision students were not.
“It’s awesome” doing something like this, they said. None of the students know Curtis as he graduated a few years ahead of them.
“It’s good to do something for someone who needs it … we really like making someone’s day,” said one.
“Their life!” chimed in another. “It feels good to make a difference and give someone transportation … safe transportation.”
The students repainted the van with camouflage stripes down the side, replaced the carpet and put a seat in the back so a passenger could ride with him.
Curtis rode the side lift and wheeled inside the spacious van.
“Phew, he fits!” a student commented.
Curtis’ brother, Danny Rock, said the family’s current van is “in very bad shape,” so the new van came not a moment too soon.
Steeves estimates he, his assistant Jeff Tucker, and his students have spent more than 200 hours, repairing and repainting the vehicle.
To get Curtis to the school without ruining the surprise, Steeves said Curtis was told he was going to be picked up by the school district’s handicapped accessible van to see a special airbrush demonstration.
Steeves said Curtis was excited about the “opportunity” that was originally scheduled for last Friday when an ice storm closed school for the day.
Curtis’ family including his mom and her husband, Alan Larrivee, father, George Curtis Jr., his brother, sister, Megan Batcheldor, and grandmother, Jennie Jacobson, were all in on the surprise and thrilled.
“Mr. Steeves and the school are just incredible,” said his mom. “They taught him how to spray [paint] and they keep in touch with him.”
The students and staff refurbished the van through the National Auto Body Council’s (NABC) Recycled Rides program, a nationwide program in which collision repair companies, insurers, suppliers and vendors collaborate to refurbish and donate vehicles to individuals, families and service organizations in need.
Businesses in Maine have refurbished vehicles through this program but this is the first time a Maine school has participated and the first high school program ever to participate, said school officials.
Steeves said he got involved with Recycled Rides several years ago.
The van was refurbished with the help of multiple donors. The donors include the Dave Forgues family of Auburn, who donated the van, Superior Paint Supply Co., Keystone/LKQ, Intertek Transportation Technologies, Oxford NAPA, Gary’s Auto Salvage, Lashin’s Auto Parts, Certified Automotive Parts Association, Moody’s Collision Center, OHTS AC II and III, Steve Bedell, the Whitman family, and the Steeves family.
The students who worked on the van include Alex Akers, Emit Hoyt, Ryan Lowe, Zac Nelson, Brandon Smith, Travis Tripp, Devon Gammon, Dustin Vezina and Anthony Whitman. Jeff Tucker and Steeves were the instructors.
Where will he go first in his new wheels?
“Everywhere,” Curtis said.