Volunteer driver, others keep Flivver on road, helping seniors
Many drivers never master the art of parking. Jack Kearns of Forest Hills nailed the skill before it was legal for him to get behind the wheel. "I started driving when I was 14," said Kearns, who turns 83 on Monday. He grew up in Wilkinsburg, where his father ran an Esso gas station and an adjacent parking lot for the now-defunct Pennsylvania Lincoln Hotel. There, Kearns parked cars for his dad after school. It was the 1940s, and business was slow. Gas and rubber were rationed, so the number of people driving was down. Kearns took advantage of his down time. "I was stuck there, so I had the opportunity to study," says Kearns, who graduated 13th in his Wilkinsburg high school class of 440. He eventually earned a masters degree in engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and became a metallurgical engineer for Westinghouse, with expertise in atomic energy. But Kearns still keeps one foot on the pedal. He has been a volunteer driver for a decade for Flivver, Forest Hills' free minivan service for seniors and those with disabilities. "I think if I weren't doing it, I would miss it," he said. "The people are so appreciative." Flivver has about 30 volunteer drivers, including Kearns. Riders phone the bus directly to make a reservation, and are often greeted by a cheerful driver who informs them, "It's a great day to ride the Flivver!" The vehicle picks them up at their doors. Flivver debuted in 1974 when borough council saw the need for convenient transportation for the area's growing elderly population. The borough purchased an old school bus with municipal money and a grant from Westinghouse Electric Corp. Originally, three women drove the bus and were paid, and passengers paid to ride. In 1975, council switched to volunteer drivers, and since 1983, the operation -- including vehicle insurance and the purchase of the minivan -- has been funded by private, noncorporate donations. It costs about $15,000 a year to run the service, said Don Newcomer, treasurer of the 12-member board that oversees Flivver through the nonprofit Forest Hills Community Service organization. Riders can donate at a box on the bus and others through an annual appeal now under way. The only government connection the vehicle has is a permanent parking spot at the borough building. "Flivver" means an old junker. But the "junker" is now replaced every three years, and is equipped with an intercom and blue tooth technology. Flivver operates from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays, taking about 40 seniors and passengers with disabilities who are not confined to wheelchairs to and from destinations such as the bank, doctors' appointments, and the beauty shop, primarily in Forest Hills. Volunteers will make trips on Sunday to take riders to church, although Sunday is not a regularly scheduled service day. Flivver board chairman and Forest Hills police Officer Lenny Mesarchik noted that many riders' spouses are deceased, and their children don't live in the area. "I've heard a lot of them say, 'We don't know what we'd do without this,' " Mesarchik said. Kearns said he has a personal appreciation for the service, having used it when he had hip surgery several years ago. As for his time at the controls, Kearns says he still enjoys it. "You learn a lot of gossip," he added with a laugh. "I get the news before anybody else."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- UPMC researcher who died of cyanide poisoning committed suicide
- Penguins finally break through, defeat Devils at Prudential Center
- Sting highlights demand for Pappy Van Winkle bourbon
- HOF finalist Bettis ‘behind everything’ in 2005 Super Bowl run
- Penguins notebook: Bennett a healthy scratch
- Rooney says Pittsburgh is ‘good place’ for next northern Super Bowl
- Pa. Turnpike claims software fraud, wants $45M
- Pirates sign 2 to minor league deals
- Dungy, Greene represent more Steelers ties in hall of fame voting
- Homework: Pittsburgh Home Show to feature celebs, wine and pets
- McCord to plead guilty to federal charges from campaign fundraising