Getting acquainted with so many people and knowing she's helping folks during their times of need are the two main reasons why Bonnie Fossum continues to be a Semcac volunteer driver. She's been doing it for 25 years . . . and counting.
“I've gotten to know so many wonderful persons,” the Canton resident noted. “I've enjoyed every ride. I love the people.”
Fossum, who spent the majority of her working years as a teller at the Canton State Bank (now First Southeast Bank of Canton) decided she needed something to do after she retired in the early 1990s. She saw an ad in the paper that Semcac was looking for volunteer drivers and thought she'd give it a try.
Transporting that first person for a medical checkup was all it took. She was hooked and has been donating up to three days a week since 1991 giving persons rides to medical facilities in La Crosse, Winona, Decorah and Rochester. That's somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 trips.
For some of her riders, it's a one-time assignment. For others, such as cancer patients, it might be an ongoing scenario for months or even years.
Fossum recalled one lady who was taking kidney dialysis treatments three times a week for a number of years. Fossum split this assignment with another volunteer driver, but during those countless trips, Fossum and the kidney patient got to be quite close.
“I dropped her off at the hospital in La Crosse and waited. The dialysis treatments usually took several hours. She came out way before she normally did. I asked her if something was wrong. She told me she had to get back home and then get to Madison, Wis. They had found a kidney for her and she just had hours to get to the hospital for the surgery.”
“It was a successful surgery and she's doing really well with her new kidney,” Fossum continued. “Not too long ago, I gave her a ride to La Crosse for a check-up. Everything is going great for her. I'm just happy I was able to be part of this. Those kinds of stories make what I do so rewarding. They make my heart beat a little better.”
When asked about inclement weather issues, Fossum said if a storm is threatening, the assignment is canceled.
“If the weatherman is predicting bad weather, they (Semcac) don't want you out on the roads any more than you want to be out on them. I've driven on some tough roads a few times when something has moved in kind of fast. But for the most part, I haven't had to deal with bad roads,” she said.
The Semcac volunteer drivers are just that . . . volunteers. They do get paid the going rate for mileage and if the trip is more than six hours, they do get paid for a meal. They usually are called three or more days in advance and Fossum said the number of trips varies from none during a quiet week to as many as three trips during a busy week.
Semcac’s Volunteer Driver Program provides transportation for persons age 60 and over and Medical Assistance, Blue Plus and UCare clients to medical and dental appointments. Those age 60 and over may also receive rides for personal appointments and senior congregate dining, although Fossum has only transported riders for medical appointments.
Clients receive a monthly letter requesting a donation for the cost of their rides. The requested donation is $4 per trip to cover the booking of the ride and a per mile rate to reimburse the volunteer driver.
When asked how long she plans to keep volunteering, the 80-something energetic Fossum replied, “I plan to do this as long as I can. I thoroughly enjoy it. I love meeting people and I also enjoy helping others.”