Written by Declan Harty
‘Local hero’ from Oak Lawn wins wheelchair-accessible van
For Linda Stearns, the feeling of needing a Linda Stearns poses with the door on her van that nearly knocked her over after it fell off when she went for a mammogram over the winter. The Oak Lawn resident, who is a tireless volunteer, won a new van for being a local hero in a National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association contest. Photo by Jeff Vorva.new van has been one that has been in her mind for quite a few years.
But it was when the door fell off her current Dodge Ram Braun Rampvan as she pulled up to a breast cancer mammogram on a snowy day this past winter, she knew she really was in need of one. She said the darn door nearly knocked her over.
In June, the 67-year old Oak Lawn resident’s wishes were finally granted.
Stearns won a brand new Chrysler wheelchair accessible van through the National Mobility Equipment Dealer’s Association’s (NMEDA) Local Heroes Award, which is awarded each year during National Mobility Awareness month.
The van, which is equipped with hand-controls and valued at approximately $70,000, will allow Stearns to not only get around town on her own, but also to have her first ever brand new car.
But despite this, Stearns only views it as an opportunity to help others despite living with Multiple Sclerosis, which has limited Stearns to a motorized scooter, and being a breast cancer survivor.
“I was struck with multiple sclerosis when my daughter was three, and I have had to live with that,” Stearns said. “I am in a motorized scooter, a very expensive and annoying disease (MS) I might add. Then after being struck with MS, if that isn’t bad enough, I was struck with breast cancer, but you have to throw all of those to the side because there are worse people out there than me.”
But it wasn’t her diseases that made Stearns want to give back to the community—she has always done in some fashion or another.
Stearns’ daughter, Gail Ann Stearns-Hussein, wrote an essay on her mother that helped win her the new van.
Stearns-Hussein said that Linda, at the age of 17 was working at Misericordia Chicago and she met Charlie, a baby who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, and was not expected to live past two years old.
But that didn’t stop Stearns.
At the age of 21, Stearns brought Charlie home with her. And in November, Charlie will turn 50 years old, as he currently still resides with Stearns and her family.
Additionally, according to Stearns, she became the unofficial provider of two sets of quadruplets, at the same time, for mothers who needed to work at the time.
For Stearns, the van provides an opportunity to continue to help out Charlie and the hundreds of others she has impacted.
From joining Charlie at Garden Center for the Handicapped located at 8333 Austin Ave. in Burbank to donating her time at her church, Mt. Zion Lutheran Church and Galilee Baptist Church, located at 10957 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, Stearns has manage to balance a life full of hundreds of other people in addition with her own family.
“She bakes for PADS, which serves the homeless, attends Honor Flight Chicago to support veterans and rearranges flowers from local funeral homes, which she delivers to patients in hospitals and nursing homes,” Stearns’ daughter wrote in the essay.