Dennis Jones, MC at the 2011 Darin & Brooke Aldridge Bluegrass Festival in Cherryville, NC – photo © Ted Lehmann
Folks in western North Carolina know Dennis Jones as a bluegrass radio personality at WNCW in Spindale. His popular Goin’ Across The Mountain show on Saturdays runs nearly all day, and has thousands of listeners across the state and beyond, broadcasting at multiple FM frequencies and online.
Long before he sat behind a microphone, Dennis was a successful audio engineer both in professional live sound reinforcement and at WNCW. In 1995, he first broadcast on the station and has been a staple there ever since. When we caught up with him last Friday afternoon, he and the rest of the station staff were deep into their Pledge Week, raising money for station operations through regular live break-ins and appeals.
Something he had posted on Facebook caught our attention: his new, specially-equipped van. Dennis has limited mobility, and is restricted to a wheel chair since his childhood bout with polio. It’s not something he calls attention to, nor does he let it define his life. Being on the radio, it’s not apparent to anyone on the listener side, but if you encounter him at a show or festival, where he is a regular MC, you’d see him wheeling around the grounds like a man on a mission.
But he is mighty proud of his new Chrysler mini van, fitted with the latest in wheelchair-accessible technology. This mechanical wonder gives Jones the freedom to travel wherever he may, without the need for anyone’s assistance. He had been driving a truck with hand controls, but he often needed help getting in and out.
A lift mounted alongside the rear side doors allows him to be lifted into the van while seated in his chair, after which he rolls to the driver’s compartment where the chair snaps into place. There hand controls are mounted that allow him to operate the van without the use of his feet, and he’s on the road. The reverse process gets him back out and onto the ground upon arrival.
For those who are wondering, Dennis says that, yes… these custom modifications come with a cost. While the lift and the controls are manufactured in advance, they have to be custom fitted to each vehicle, something handled for him by Ilderton Conversions in Charlotte, NC. While he didn’t give us a quote for what he paid, a bit of checking revealed than a van such as his new one, configured in this way, sells for at least $70,000.
That’s a small price to pay for the freedom of mobility it gives him, but it’s a tough nut to crack for an awful lot of people. Jones told us that he was grateful that his life has been such that he could afford a vehicle like this, but that his heart goes to families, especially with children who have mobility issues and are unable to obtain assistance with such a purchase. The Veterans Administration helps vets get this sort of transportation, but families who make too much to qualify for assistance are often still constrained when it comes to buying a $70-$90K vehicle.
Or as he put it on Facebook…
“One thing we can all remember…God answers Prayers, sometimes He says wait. I can never thank Him enough for all He has done for me, none of which I deserve. I’m on the very top of a mountain so high, I think I see the Promised Land before me.“
Congratulations, Dennis, on your new ride!