“It keeps us out of trouble,” Lefty Irwin said Tuesday after completing yet another set of handicapped-accessible stairs for an Inyo County resident.
Irwin and his band of fellow Lions Club members have been installing ramps and stairs for local handicapped or otherwise mobility challenged residents for more than 20 years.
The one built on Tuesday was the milestone 100th such creation that helps those with walkers and wheelchairs get out of their homes and get mobile.
Irwin and the Lions Club have been offering this invaluable service for any resident and even some businesses for the price of materials only. The ramps and stairs are usually for seniors who have mobility problems of some sort or are recovering from a surgery or an accident.
Despite constant joking, Irwin, Larry Cox, Ron Lewis and Neil Vedder evidently do a pretty good job. Irwin ribbed Vedder, “Don’t put that paint on upside-down.”
Irwin explained that he has the tools to pre-fabricate much of the structures in his garage before going on location. He agreed that the basic structures are similar, “but no two of these are alike.”
Cox said that one job took almost eight hours of digging up roots and leveling hard ground in 103 degree temperatures. Irwin said that sometimes entire decks have to be re-built to accommodate a wheelchair, and of course, the color has to match the rest of the house.
“Larry you keep mouthing off and you’re not going to get invited back,” Irwin told Cox with a chuckle.
“Wow! A hundred … What an incredible gift to give,” Marilyn Mann, director of the Inyo-Mono Area Agency on Aging, said of Irwin and the Lions Club’s most recent project.
She said Irwin embodies the kind of giving that inspires and helps the entire community. Not only is he helping prevent injuries with the ramps, but, Mann said, without Irwin and the Lions Club spearheading these projects, many people would be confined to their house. She explained that resources are limited in the area for these types of add-ons and that his contributions are invaluable.
“The ramps help people stay active and healthy,” she said, adding that she thought it’s good for Irwin too.
Staying active must be one of 89-year-old Irwin’s secrets to longevity, said Mann. “Helping others can be inspiring and is good for his own well-being.”
Mann also praised Irwin and other “core sets of volunteers” that help the community. “We would be void without them.”
Irwin also helped build a wheelchair accessible ramp at Diaz Lake and Buckley Ponds. The Lions Club and Irwin have built ramps from Mojave to Round Valley. Irwin said he’s refused invitations from folks as far as Las Vegas, San Diego and Tahoe to build ramps – he said there are Lions Clubs there that can do the job – and it’s too expensive nowadays with gas prices.
“Lefty better not be going anywhere, we need him right here,” Mann said, adding, “what we (really) need are more Lefty Irwins.”
Irwin has had his fingers and hammer in groundbreaking activities in the county for decades.
As a former County Supervisor, Irwin was on the board during the first preliminary long-term water agreement between Inyo and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The preliminary draft eventually led to the Lower Owens River Project. Irwin also helped refurbish the Bishop Elementary School, now City Hall, and is credited with building the Boy Scout House in Bishop, too. A plumber by trade, Irwin has helped plumb systems throughout the county as well as help get the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery flowing after floods ravaged the facilities.
In July 2010, Irwin was awarded the Bishop City Council Quarterly Citizen Award.
Irwin said the 100th build, a set of stairs for Rose Espinola, wasn’t too difficult; it took the crew just two hours to complete the stairs. Smiling the whole time, he said he had three more projects lined up for the rest of the week.