Assistant Managing Editor
On July 9, Bill Gurney, Jr. fell 30 feet from a tree he was cutting, shattering his spine and becoming paralyzed from the waist down. In the blink of an eye his life was forever changed and now his family and friends are coming together to support a man described as "a guy who would help anyone in need."
From 1 - 6 p.m. on Oct. 13 there will be a benefit hosted in his honor at the Elks Lodge #61 on Tiffany Street in Springfield.
A mechanic for the Springfield Department of Public Works for seven years, Gurney is a resident of Monson and a father to four children a son and daughter from a previous relationship, a daughter with his wife Christine and a son through marriage.
Denise Olszewski, a close friend of the family who organized the event said, "this ordeal has been unreal.
"I wanted to do it because he did get hurt and because of that he has a lot of rehab to go through and a lot of healing," Olszewski shared. "Whether he'll be able to walk and work again we don't know. His entire life is changed. If you needed help he would have been there in a heartbeat."
Olszewski and the Gurneys have been participating in other memorial dinners yearly. She said this would not be any different. "When Christine called me that night to say that this had happened I said don't worry about it. I said just like we do the memorial dinner every year we're going to do something," she stated. "When they said he was paralyzed, how is going to work and afford their bills? They need the help and we need to do it. Everyone of us they have helped. I just decided we'll do a benefit."
Community support began to pour in almost immediately.
"David Bradway, owner of Westview Farm in Monson, came a few days after the accident and took the rest of the tree down. Ed's Tree Service came and did work as well to help and get everything done and prepared," Olszewski said.
Over the last couple of months Gurney has traveled the state to receive the best medical care possible with stints in Worcester's UMass Memorial Medical Center and six weeks in the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. With escalating medical costs and increased bills due to making their home handicap accessible and a new car and bed to accommodate him, the benefit is to help reduce the Gurneys financial burden.
Gurney's father, Bill Gurney, Sr., said the response from the community has been wonderful.
Howlett Lumber of Palmer donated wood and friends built a handicap accessible ramp for their home.
"It's really been overwhelming. He's gotten support from everybody. He got a letter yesterday from a girl that he went to school with [who now lives] in Tennessee. She found out about it and she sent some money," Bill said.
Gurney grew up in Springfield on California Avenue and is a 1978 graduate of Cathedral High School. He has two adult children, one in college and a 10-year-old at home. His father spoke proudly of him saying he is "easy going and a good family man."
"He is that guy," Olszewski agreed. "You'd be on the side of the street and he would not know you and he'd pull over. When this happened it was just awful."
Right now, Gurney is in recovery mode at home receiving physical therapy.
"He gets tired from therapy. For the most part he's been great," she said. "He could really be down in the dumps but he's not. He's learning how to use his wheelchair and building up his arms. That's him to a T. He's learning how to adapt to this new life and I give him a lot of credit for that."
His wife Christine could not stop relaying her gratitude to everyone, especially for the ramp. While they have many renovations to make she said at some point they'd "like to re-do the bathroom to include a rolling shower [and] some kind of carport to get in and out of the vehicle to stay out of the elements."
She said the ticket response has been outstanding. "We've had many people making donations. We've also had a lot of raffle prizes donated," she added. "I just want to thank all the friends and family for all the outstanding report we've received."
At 46, Gurney has a long road ahead of him, but his family is optimistic about his future.
"[If you] touch the top of his leg he has some sensation. There's a lot of damage," Olszewski said. "Whether he'll ever walk again we don't know. I'm hoping with some apparatus [he will]. He's determined. If anybody's going to do it he's going to."
Tickets to the Oct. 13 benefit are available at Gurney's Service Station, 510 Allen St. in Springfield or by calling Bill Gurney, Sr. at 736-4311, Denise Olszewski at 783-6894 or Donald Tourville at 782-5085. Donations can also be sent to Peoples Bank in care of Bill Gurney, Jr.