A dying Massachusetts man is showing his community that it’s never too late to do a good deed. 44-year old Bob Charland of Springfield, MA, suffers from a terminal neurodegenerative brain disease, but hasn’t let that stop him from spending his precious remaining time fixing up old and used bicycles for local children. Charland, dubbed the “Bike Man” by local news, recently delivered thirty-five bikes to students at the William DeBerry School, many of whom belong to parents who can’t afford to get them bikes of their own.
“It’s really exciting to see all these kids so happy,” Charland told reporters, “Some of these kids have never had bikes in their life, so it’s amazing for me to do this for them.” A local boy himself, Charland works as a mechanic at a garage in the area and volunteers with his daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, as well as lending his time to the Willie Ross School for the Deaf. With such deep roots in the community, it’s unsurprising that Bob soon found others looking to amplify his charity: Other Springfield residents have begun to donate spare bikes to Charland so that he can go on delivering to the kids; local and state police help Bob deliver the bikes; and after AAA heard about what he was up to, they donated matching helmets to go with each bike.
If the Bike Man shows what’s best in local life—a dying men selflessly giving his last days to help his neighbors—his story also raises a warning regarding the ripple effects of bad behavior: Apparently teenagers recently broke into Bob’s garage and stole six of the bikes that had been set aside for the schoolchildren. Despite this senseless act of vandalism, however, Charland’s actions remain quietly heroic as an affirmation of hope over defeat, of public-spiritedness over private despair. Civil society exists precisely in order to engender the sort of local affection that prompts a man like Bob Charland to action; that his story still captures the popular imagination says something important about the American ideal of community.