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Brothers’ van causes excitement


Excitement was in the air in the town of Orange on Sunday—and not just because Scouts in costume, horses in lighted halters and men in little cars were lining up for the community’s holiday parade.

Before the event started, people exchanged hugs and snapped photos in the parking lot of the Faulconer Hardware store.

“Let me see these two celebrities,” said Sharon Horton of Madison as she walked up to the Plumb brothers, embraced them and posed for a  picture. “This is a great thing for a parade, isn’t it?”

GW and Ben Plumb smiled and said, “Yes, ma’am.”

Even though Ben can be camera shy at times, both brothers were gracious as newspaper reporters and a television crew from Charlottesville chronicled the reason for the excitement: a 2012 Toyota Sienna van, equipped with handicapped ramps, interior space and tie-downs for two wheelchairs and, to Ben’s delight, a moon roof.

The customized van cost $65,000, and neighbors and friends of the  Plumbs raised the money for it. Community groups sold candles and coconut pies, held dinners and made donations—in the midst of a recession and a holiday season—to help the family who have always worked  so hard to do for themselves.

 “When something like this comes along, people always pitch in to do things,” said Jane Lutz of Orange, who made caramel pound cakes and custard pies for a recent bake sale. “Others responded the same, any way they could help.”

 It was a response like none Katie Walter had ever seen. She represents Ride-Away, the Richmond company that brought several models of customized vans to Orange for the family to see. She also delivered the chosen van on Sunday, at the hardware store, so the brothers could ride it in the parade.

Walter was so excited that she brought along her three children. Two of  them walked the parade route, behind the van, and handed out candy with Conway Faulconer, owner of the hardware store.

Walter asked others in the company, which has been in business for 25 years, if they had ever seen a community rally behind a cause the way people in Orange and surrounding areas had done.

They hadn’t.

 “For a community to raise $65,000 in three months is pretty amazing,” Walter said. “You can tell there’s a lot of love and support for these boys.”

The “boys” are grown men; GW is 26 and Ben is 24. Both were born with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare form of  the disease that has gradually taken away a lot of their motor skills. GW’s condition is more advanced than Ben’s.

Despite their condition, the boys have always gone to regular classes and fished, hunted and enjoyed other aspects of life on the farm with their parents, George and Jane. The parents insisted the boys live as normal a life as possible, and never asked for charity or to be included in government programs, although they probably qualified, friends of the family said.

As the boys got older and their condition put them both in wheelchairs, the family struggled to get them to and from their jobs and other activities. The Plumbs couldn’t afford a handicapped-accessible vehicle, so the petite Jane lifted and carried each son into their van.

The family kept a wheelchair at home, one at the hardware store, where GW works, and another at Virginia Tractor, where Ben is employed.

The Plumbs were in the running for a free van as part of an online contest this summer. They finished in the top 10 percent of vote-getters, but were not one of the three winners.

So Doris Waugh, a 64-year-old who was paralyzed in an auto accident 26 years ago, decided to start raising money for a new van. She’s a resident of Dogwood Village of Orange County Health and Rehab, where Jane works, and she has collected funds for 18 yeas for other charities, even though she’s often confined to bed.

The effort snowballed from there, and other community groups got involved.

“Being a part of getting this van for the family is like winning the lottery,” Waugh said.

GW was amazed by how quickly everything happened, and Ben worked with Ride-Away to negotiate the contract and settle on the color: predawn gray. (He selected that shade because John Deere green wasn’t available.)

The Plumb parents stayed in the background, just as they did on Sunday, and let their boys enjoy the moment.

“This is G and Ben’s day,” said George Plumb, who, like his youngest son, is not fond of the limelight. “They got a lot of thank-yous they need to say, to everybody.”

 Cathy Dyson:   540/374-5425