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Van Driver Goes the Extra Mile : HEARTS OF THE CITY: Where dilemmas are aired and unsung heroes and resiliency are celebrated. : Senior Citizens Center's Dick Campion wins honors, but for him, just helping others is reward enough.

October 04, 1995|EMI ENDO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dick Campion's city job description only requires him to take elderly and disabled South Pasadenans to and from grocery stores and medical services in the city's free Dial-a-Ride van.

But Campion doesn't stop there.

Over the last decade, he has made a habit of adding extra touches: getting a shopping cart for each passenger he takes to the supermarket, lugging and putting away groceries, lifting heavy items and running back after he drops off riders to lock their front doors.

He hops out of the blue-and-white van to offer his arm to senior citizens needing a little help.

When his passengers bake him edible thank you gifts, he shares them with co-workers at the South Pasadena Senior Citizens Center.

Campion's friendly patience has won him a following among senior citizens and recognition in the small-town community.

"He's the kindest person ever," said Viola Sirolos, 90, who recently thanked Campion with oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for carting her nine grocery bags to the doorstep.

At the mention of two awards from the senior citizens center and the city of South Pasadena this year, Campion shakes his head, muttering that he is not sure exactly why he got them. Satisfaction on the job seems reward enough.

"I loved it from the first day," he says. "Some of these people couldn't live alone if it weren't for this van."

Senior citizens call a toll-free number to request rides, and Campion and the other two drivers organize pickups and drop-offs between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Campion--a senior citizen who asked that his age not be published because he is afraid people might consider him too old for his job--keeps in touch with a dispatcher at the senior center via radio.

Since 1982, a half-cent county sales tax has been paying for the Dial-a-Ride program.

It is the main reason that Adele Ladrech, 76, moved to South Pasadena from San Francisco a few years ago.

Ladrech doesn't drive because she is not familiar with the town, but, "I haven't missed an appointment in 2 1/2 years," she said.

Such demand for the service has pushed the program from one van to three, and dozens of passengers to about 1,350 a month, according to Liliy Farruggia, assistant to the director of the senior citizens center.

Campion, a South Pasadena resident for more than 30 years, fell into the job when the city started running a second van. Part-time work turned into full time.

By now he has his routine down. After picking up passengers at the grocery stores, he loads all the bags in the front of the van, keeping track of whose are whose by marking them with a black pen.

"He does far and beyond what's expected of him," says Farruggia, Campion's supervisor.

"And he never wants to take a vacation. The ladies just love him. He's so humble."

Several times, word got back to Farruggia that Campion stayed late to drive home a dialysis patient whose treatment had been delayed.

"She doesn't have a family," he later told Farruggia. "I can't leave her there."

Campion, who is single and lives with his nephew, brings gifts to senior citizens center employees and van passengers on holidays.

He saves candy from office parties to give to children who ride the van for Recreation Department activities.

He balks at the idea of retiring. He vows that he will be behind the wheel, wearing his white shirt and blue name label "as long as I'm healthy and able to do it--unless they make me go."

"One of these days, I'll be riding and I'll sit back and tell [the new driver] how it used to be." A smile spreads across his face. "How we used to always be on time--and why are they late?"

The Beat

Today's centerpiece tells the story of a dedicated senior citizens van driver. If you would like to volunteer to help senior citizens call the Los Angeles County Area Agency on Aging, (213) 738-4004,or the Los Angeles City Department of Aging, (213) 368-4000.

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