84-year-old Korean War, Navy veteran builds wheelchair-accessible tables for fellow nursing home residents

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ARGYLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Ron Hintz says he’s always been one to tinker. As both an engineer and a Navy veteran, he loves the challenge of creating something useful.

“I sort of described myself over the years that if I found a couple of boards lying on the ground, I’d go look for a couple of nails to put them together,” he laughs.

In fact, Hintz recently did just that. He grabbed some boards, bolts and screws to make two wheelchair-accessible picnic tables for his fellow residents at the Washington Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing.

“We are sort of limited on what we can do. We are limited in even being able to come out on the patio, and this is our big escape hatch for our sanity, for fighting off cabin fever,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

The 84-year-old Korean War veteran drew up the plans, did all the math, and the Washington Center bought around $200 worth of parts to get started. Administrator Brooke Daley says the center couldn’t afford $4,000 for tables they found online, so Ron’s generosity and ingenuity really helped keep both minds and bodies healthy during the pandemic.

“He really dug deep to see what he could do and came up with the idea of building them himself. It’s saved us a lot of money,” she says. “Especially during this difficult time, it’s been nice being able to even just walk by, seeing folks out here working with Ron, knowing that therapy was helping him get stronger with some of the tasks that he was doing to put the tables together.”

Ron says he believes his military service served him well in creating these tables. It reminded him of his promise to always help others.

“I got trained on how to be a human being from the service. There’s something about making that commitment and doing your best to fulfill it. It changes your whole attitude towards life, that there’s something bigger than yourself,” Hintz says.

Ron Hintz joined the Navy in 1954 fresh out of high school. The military also funded his education to attend the University of California, Berkeley where he continued a lifelong interest in physics.

“I am a mechanical engineer. I helped design MRI machines and the big superconducting magnets. I enjoy putting things together,” Hintz says. “I was privileged to take on such an important role on these machines that probably saved hundreds or thousands of lives by now.”

He says he leant his skills to the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Hintz says his many years at Berkeley and in the Navy eventually lead him back to his high school sweetheart.

“I was doing my best to become a Navy officer, wound up on a heavy cruiser in the Atlantic, flew around in some military jets, then strange thing happened. I managed to start a family and all of a sudden, my life took off in a different direction,” he says.

Hintz says his first forty years were spent in California and the service, the next forty spent in New York. His last three years, he’s lived at the Washington Center where he’s made some amazing friends. Hintz says many of them pitched in to help build the tables.

“It’s a little bit like Tom Sawyer painting a fence. Along come your buddies and you hand them a paintbrush, and next thing you know, you’ve got some thing like 17 people helping out building these tables,” he laughs.

“It’s been fun to watch Ron and how excited he’s gotten. He has always loved to talk to us about his involvement in MRIs, and now he was able to show us really how his mind kind of works and how he was able to put all this together,” remarks Daley.

“It’s trying to put things together in a special way that makes all the difference between something you can be proud of, or just something to take up time,” Hintz reflects on his love for building. “My whole life fits together, takes on meaning. I don’t know that the tables are the end result, but it’s the process that’s important. It’s the journey that counts, not the final destination.”

Hintz also took a moment to dedicate the two wheelchair-accessible tables to Brooke Daley and thank her for all the work she and other staff have done to protect Washington Center residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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