Paying It Forward
Main Street Motors chips in
by Anita LeBlanc
A timely repair helps an Air Force veteran in need.
After serving twenty years in the air force, Michigan native Dave Kelly semi-retired to Las Vegas. Each summer, he returned to Clio, north of Flint, to help his elderly mother. But during his flight to Michigan in May 2010, he became sick to his stomach and was unable to keep food down for days after. What he assumed was a bad case of flu was ultimately diagnosed as a stomach cancer that required immediate surgery and biweekly chemotherapy at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital. Kelly moved back in with his mother and has since been driving his green 1996 GMC Sierra 1500 truck to the hospital for his appointments, chemotherapy treatments, and surgeries.
"I'm fifty-seven, and my mom is eighty-two--too old to be driving me an hour and a half each way," says Kelly.
This past December, en route to an early morning appointment at the VA, Kelly's truck sputtered and stopped at the corner of Main and Depot, just outside Main Street Motors. Service manager Brian Laraway went out to help a frail Kelly get his vehicle off the road. Learning that Kelly had ten minutes to make it to his appointment, Laraway arranged for another employee, George Creswell, to take him to the hospital. On the way, Kelly told Creswell about his cancer, air force career, and later work as a NASCAR tire-prep specialist.
Meanwhile, a service technician began diagnostics, discovering that the truck had a bad fuel pump, loose exhaust system, and missing taillight. Laraway remembers calling Kelly to let him know that the repairs would cost close to $900. "I felt I could hear his heavy heart through the phone," he says. "He told me he didn't have the money, that he only had $600 to his name and would have to figure out a way to get his truck home. I got off the phone and thought about how I would feel if I'd served
my country, found out I had cancer, and couldn't afford to fix my vehicle to get home or get to treatment. I went to talk to Jay. He listened to the story and immediately said, 'Fix the truck, Brian.' "
Jay is Jay Williams, the owner of Main Street Motors, renowned among his employees and his customers for his quiet generosity. His graying curls and goatee make him look like a slimmer version of Santa Claus. What made him decide to help Kelly? "He needed it. I could tell he needed it," says Williams plainly.
Laraway called Kelly again, to tell him that Main Street Motors wanted to fix his truck at no cost. After a brief silence, Kelly responded, "I needed some good news today. I was just told that I have less than a year to live. You guys have made a friend for life."
The staff repaired and cleaned Kelly's truck and the next morning, Laraway drove it to pick up Kelly at the motel where the VA had arranged for him to stay. Before he headed home, Kelly offered his new friends some of the jewelry he makes and sells to supplement his small pension.
Since then, the shop has received notes from both Kelly's sister-in-law and his mother, thanking them for "helping one of my heroes who served our country," "making this a true
Christmas for us," and "being his angel." Early one morning, they discovered that Kelly had dropped off a package of coffees, mugs, sugar, creamer, and seven loaves of zucchini bread.
"The doctor told me that there will come a time when the chemo won't do anything, and I won't be returning to Ann Arbor," Kelly says. But he plans to continue to meet with his friends as long as he is able.In the meantime, his repaired truck has enabled Kelly to visit family and friends in Pennsylvania and West Virginia--"my bucket list," he says. Customers, who learned of Williams' generosity via a Main Street Motors Facebook posting, have offered to help pay for the repairs. Williams has declined those offers, but is considering accepting donations to help Kelly with gas and other essentials. "It would be one less thing he'd need to worry about," he says.
[Originally published in February, 2013.]