Local volunteer hopes to log 1 million miles
Gene Lister's service in the Navy took him to locales far and wide: the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, even Alaska's Northwest Passage. But, it is the shorter trips -- to Memphis, to Pittsburgh, to Richmond and others -- that give him reason to get out of bed these days, in his quest to log 1 million miles as a volunteer driver for the Disabled American Veterans transportation program.
"It keeps me going," said Lister, a young 86 years old, who volunteers up to 50 hours each week as a driver, shuttling veterans to and from medical appointments. "I'm not going to slow down until I've reached a million miles. After that, we'll talk."
A million miles might sound insurmountable, without the understanding that Lister's already more than two-thirds of the way there, amassing as many as 5,000 miles each month over the past 14 years he's served as a volunteer. Last spring, he was honored for 30,000 hours of volunteer service.
"Volunteering keeps me alive. It gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning," L said. "Five days a week I'm out of the bed at 4 a.m. and on the road before dawn. Sometimes it's 10 hours a day, sometimes 15. I get back whenever I get back."
Lister is a traveling man from way back, serving on the USS Wisconsin at the close of World War II to entering a career as a boating man that took him from the Arctic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. He worked for Ashland Oil from the Upper Monongahela to the lower Mississippi, and is the sole survivor plank owner of Huntington's Coast Guard auxiliary, founded in 1955. He still spends weekends on the Ohio River, calling his time on the water "soothing, quiet and at times very placid." He was also the owner and captain of the Camden Queen at Camden Park for 15 years.
When he leaves the water, though, he's behind the wheel of a department-issued 2013 Dodge Caravan. His last vehicle was put to bed after 231,000 miles.
Lister travels most frequently back and forth to Lexington and Louisville, but has been on multiple trips to Chicago and was even selected to fly to Dallas several years ago to pick up a new van donated to the DAV by Ford Motor Co. -- a two-day trip totaling 1,172 miles. All told, Huntington's VA transportation program is the top ranked in the country, involving a fleet of 36 vehicles, 39 drivers and 72,000 miles each month.
"My favorite part of the job is coming to work in the morning and not knowing where I'm going," he said. "I get my orders, find out where I'm going, take the veteran to that location and bring him home."
Himself a veteran, Lister takes his assignments quite seriously, taking a veteran into the hospital, never just leaving him at the doorstep, and spending his hours waiting by catching a nap or doing some shopping. He calls his van his "horse," and said it comes first: "It's like any other horse, you have to take care of it to get you home."
Lister is well aware some people might view his age as a detriment, but he is required to undergo a yearly physical and has 20/20 vision. He said he prefers to keep quiet on his drives, allowing his brain to concentrate, reading and gathering information on the road and its conditions as he goes. His radio preference? "Good, old-fashioned country western," he said.
"I'm well aware people might think my age is a concern," Lister said, with a grin. "That's why I'm not over 39 years old."
A self-described "transportation nut," Lister loves anything that moves -- cars, boats, trains, but more than that, he loves the service he provides.
"I could probably fill a book with all the experiences I've had, but having a veteran shake my hand and tell me that they appreciate what we do for them is the most rewarding part of what I do," he said.
Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.
Favorite hobby: Boating
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