On a pleasant August day in 2012, Harold Ennis got a good, long look at the miles of northwest North Dakota countryside around Tagus, a now-unincorporated town where he spent his youth.
In this rural area between Minot and Stanley, Ennis saw the wetlands and varied waterfowl. New oil development. The crops and grain harvest. Old abandoned buildings and new construction.
One good, long, last look.
Ennis died about two weeks later, on Sept. 3, at age 94.
By then, the multiple-time stroke victim had shared highlights of what he had seen with staff members of the Souris Valley Care Center in Velva, N.D.
His views came from the front passenger side of one of NDAD’s wheelchair accessible vans, which the driver – Jan Barlow, one of his two daughters – had borrowed through the charitable nonprofit’s van loan program.
“Oh, it was wonderful,” the Minot woman recalled about that last ride. “I don’t even think he’d blink his eyes. He didn’t want to miss a thing. He loved it. He just smiled all the way.”
For her father, a longtime Minot railroad worker who retired in 1978 as a car foreman, riding in the van “just really made” the final weeks of his life, she said.
Strokes had limited Ennis’ mobility and hampered his ability to get outside and travel – a difficult adjustment for a man who had relished a lifetime of opportunities spent outdoors since first hunting, fishing and ice skating as a boy. “He was an outdoorsman,” Barlow said.
Back in the 1940s, World War II took Ennis from the Northern Plains, and his job as a principal and teacher at the Clay Center School near Lansford, to the Navy and the Pacific war front, where he served as a landing carrier infantryman.
Years later, after the war, Ennis and his wife, Mabel, spent years of plenty of outdoor recreation time at Van Hook Park on Lake Sakakawea. After his retirement, the couple traveled to Mesa, Ariz., to spend all or parts of 30 winters.
To view the North Dakota countryside one last time was an opportunity Ennis deeply appreciated.
“He got to see the things he loved,” Barlow said. “It cheered him up.”
Barlow’s mother, 92, who resided in assisted living in Velva until this fall, sat in the van’s back seat on that final trip. Like her husband, Mabel Ennis had been raised in the Tagus area, too. They’d spent a lot of time on the road together in 73 years of marriage.
Mabel enjoyed the ride, too, if for no other reason “because he did,” Barlow said. “I don’t know if she was as interested in seeing the crops and the ducks on the ponds” as Harold. “She didn’t glow like he did.”
With Minot’s 2011 flood, Harold and Mabel were evacuated from a care facility in that city to the one in Velva, and they chose to remain there afterward.
Since Harold's death, Mabel has moved to an assisted living facility in North Platte, Neb., near her other daughter.
A retired Valley City insurance agent, Jan Barlow first became aware of NDAD several years back when she learned about its equipment loan program from another non-profit. She borrowed, free of charge, a shower stool for her mom, “a long one where she could slide across.”
“And I took another chance” this year when she inquired about borrowing NDAD’s van.
After her father’s death in early September, Barlow donated several of her father’s accessibility items – a Jazzy electric wheelchair, a shower stool, a transfer board – to NDAD. “I just hope somebody else can use them,” she said. “They helped me out.”
In fact, she says she “became friends” with NDAD’s Minot staff.
“They were just so kind. I can’t say enough about it,” Barlow said about borrowing NDAD’s van on her father’s behalf. “They made me feel comfortable and they helped me through it. . . .
“You saved our lives by getting him out. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
-- Mike Brue
The writer is communications director for NDAD.
NOTE: Originally published in the fall of 2012.