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Friends donate new van to help paralyzed Rock Hill man

For more than eight years, five or six days a week, Tim Stewart would work out at the Rock Hill YMCA's main branch on Charlotte Avenue.

He would help strangers with machines, and just be a good guy armed with a smile in a world filled with grimaces. He literally would help little old ladies.

Members would tell the staff about this nice guy who was so helpful in a quiet way - a guy who was just so darn nice all the time.

He was the same way at work at West Marine, and at home with his wife Lois, two grown kids and two grandkids.

Then, on Dec. 11, after finishing a workout, Tim went home to trim some trees - and fell from a ladder.

Just like that, a 44-year-old guy who worked out, who always worked and provided for his family, had a broken neck and was paralyzed.

Stewart couldn't go anywhere because the family had no handicapped-accessible van to get him and his wheelchair anywhere.

So those people at the YMCA who had come to love the nice guy decided to buy him a van.

Over months of fundraising - led by the YMCA's Lamar Thompson and members Rene Brannan and Wayne Helms, through flyers and word of mouth - donations came in.

Money came in $10 bills and $20 bills - and a few donations that were bigger. Tim was so loved at work that the marine company donated a boat.

Little old ladies who heard about it said, "The nice man?" and wrote checks.

The van cost $21,100.

The group raised $21,200.

The van was bought and filled with gas.

On Thursday, 10 months after Stewart's last visit there, Lois, drove him to the YMCA in the new van.

Dozens of people in the parking lot applauded Tim Stewart as he arrived. A few cried for Tim Stewart.

Tim Stewart did not cry. He just said that he was "overwhelmed" by the generosity of people - many of whom he did not know.

"They are just awesome," Stewart said.

But this big crowd of people donated money and came to the YMCA Thursday because in this tough, fast-paced world, Tim Stewart always took time for them. He was the nice man in a world not always so nice.

"Tim was that friendly face at the Y," said Lamar Thompson, branch manager at Charlotte Avenue.

Ronnie Robinson, property manager at the Y, was so struck by Stewart's decency over the years, his niceness, that Robinson and another guy built a wheelchair ramp and deck outside Stewart's Rock Hill home.

"Around here, nobody has ever been nicer," said Robinson.

Lois Stewart said her husband almost died after his fall - doctors told him he would not make it. His heart stopped more than once.

But Stewart survived, and all these people associated with the Y have helped the family be able to get around now with the new van. Lois has to take care of her husband around the clock.

"A true blessing in this world," is how Lois Stewart described the donations. "These people - look at them!"

She pointed at people who loved her husband who showed up Thursday. Those people were young and old, blue-collar and white-collar, white and black and Hispanic.

"They didn't have to do this - but they did," Lois Stewart said. "We are so grateful."

The hope for Stewart now is that he can get into swimming therapy. The pool location has already been found.

Thompson, the manager at the YMCA that has a big pool, spoke for all those Y members when he said to an ovation for a nice guy: "Tim, welcome back home, buddy. We missed you."

Want to help?

Donations are still being accepted to help make Tim Stewart's home handicapped-accessible. Write to: Tim Stewart Fund, South Carolina Bank & Trust, c/o Rene Brannan, P.O. Box 3186, Rock Hill, SC 29732.

On the Web

To see more photos, go to heraldonline.com

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