Resourceful volunteer makes old bikes ‘new

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Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick

Hard at work on an old bicycle rim, Maggie Wagner uses an tried and true remedy for rust removal—naval gel, a wire brush and good old-fashioned elbow grease. The London resident is collecting new and used bicycles to give to HELP House for distribution to needy children next Christmas.

Maggie Wagner isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. In fact, the 77-year-old London resident recently has taught herself how to repair old bicycles.

Her tools: wrenches, WD-40, electrical tape, a wire brush, rust remover, nail polish for paint touch-ups, and rags.

Her goal: to collect and rejuvenate at least 100 bicycles by December.

Her mission: to bring happiness to the needy children whose Christmas gifts come from HELP House’s annual toy giveaway.

“This past Christmas, I looked around at what we had to give at HELP House and thought, ‘We only have three bikes this year,’ ” Wagner said.

That’s when she knew what her 2008 project would be. In 2006, she collected new and used dolls and stuffed animals. In 2007, she assembled gift baskets full of items appropriate for teenagers. This year, it’s bikes, and she is looking to the public for help.

“I am asking people to donate new or old bikes,” she said. She doesn’t care if they are rusty, dirty or in need of repair. She’ll make them “shine like new.”

Just four weeks into the year, Wagner is already halfway to her goal. A total of 49 new and used bikes have come from all sorts of sources, including Wagner’s family members and church friends. So far, most are from the London Police Department. Normally, the department auctions off the abandoned bikes they find in town.

“I asked if they would give them to me instead, and they said, ‘Come on down!’ ” Wagner said.

Knowing that HELP House annually serves 700 children at Christmas, Wagner hopes to go well beyond her initial goal of 100 bikes. Tricycles, children’s bikes, adult bikes, mountain bikes, trail bikes—she’ll take them all.

If she comes across a repair that’s beyond her skills, like wheels that are out of alignment, Wagner said she can rely on Bill Young at Young’s Cyclery in London to lend a hand. MATCO Industries is part of the project, too, supplying storage space for the growing collection of bikes.

Much of the expense of replacing tires, handlebars, kickstands, break pads, seats and the like is coming out of Wagner’s pocket. The same goes for the purchase of new bikes. It adds up, but she said she is paid back in other ways.

“To see the glow in the children’s eyes when they receive (the gifts) is all worth it. It’s a feeling nobody knows until they get into doing things like this,” Wagner said.

The tireless volunteer has been “doing things like this” since she was in her 20s and living in her native Germany. She helped out in nursing homes and through her church. The same applied when she and her husband, Dalmer, moved to the United States in 1957.

When the couple settled in London in 1979, Wagner cared for her mother and mother-in-law in her home. By the time her “moms” passed away, within a couple of years of each other, her two daughters had grown up and started their own lives.

“I was lost and had to find new ‘moms,’ ” Wagner said.

So, she took classes to learn more about caring for the ill and received guidance from the late Dr. William T. Bacon, for whom the newly renovated intensive care unit at Madison County Hospital is named.

Wagner then approached the Madison County Welfare Department and made arrangements to help 38 bed-ridden patients with their daily needs. For 17 years, she regularly visited the patients, looked after their basic care and, most importantly, quelled their loneliness, if only for a short time each day. And she did it all as a volunteer.

Wagner’s quest to help those in need continues. If she isn’t dropping off a carload of clothing and household items at HELP House, she is giving communion to shut-ins as a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in London. This year, bicycle repair is on her schedule, too.

To donate new or used bikes or money for the purchase of new bikes or replacement parts, call Maggie Wagner at 740-852-3481. To learn more about HELP House and its services, call 740-852-1980.

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