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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 17 2012

Dilworth man given car after his was stolen, wrecked

DILWORTH - Jennifer Spiesz may not think of herself as a matchmaker, but on Wednesday she made Juan Hernandez a happy man when she introduced him to “ELEANOR.”

Eleanor is the name on the vanity plate of a cream-colored 1992 Chevy Lumina that Spiesz gave as a gift to Hernandez.

It may not have been the look of love that lit up Hernandez’s face when he looked Eleanor over in the parking lot of Houge Estates, but it was close to it.

After all, the 64-year-old once again had a set of keys to his independence.

“Beautiful car!” he said in Spanish, joking through an interpreter that he’d “chain the doors together” to keep future thieves out.

Hernandez speaks little English, but the residents of the housing complex for seniors and the disabled know him as a kind, friendly man.

So it was a shock to all, not the least to Hernandez, when a Clay County sheriff’s deputy rapped on his door about 4 a.m. Oct. 7 and told him that his Dodge Dakota pickup had been stolen and wrecked in a rollover crash near Fergus Falls.

“I said, ‘How could that be? My truck is outside,’ ” Hernandez said.

A suspect in the theft was caught. But the pickup is toast and now sits in a Fergus Falls impound lot, said Gail Agnes, service coordinator for the Clay County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

“He was near tears … when he found out about it,” Agnes said.

The story made its way around the complex to Virginia Foss, another resident.

When Foss met with her daughter and granddaughter to play bingo in Harwood, N.D., she told them “the worst thing happened to the nicest man out there,” Spiesz said.

“I said, ‘Oh, we have this (car). We could do that.’ And I asked my husband and he said, ‘Oh, why not?’ ” the Harwood woman said.

The car was purchased a year ago for their daughter, who has since gone to college.

“I feel that we’re very, very blessed in our lives with our friends and family. It was just someone had a need and we had something extra,” Spiesz said.

Handing over the keys, the title and other paperwork took just a couple of minutes in the south lobby of Houge Estates.

“It’s a gift, so there’s no sales tax,” Spiesz told Hernandez.

“Thank you,” Hernandez said in English, nearly overcome with emotion.

“You’re very, very welcome. It’s my pleasure to help out,” Spiesz said.

In Spanish, Hernandez replied: “May God bless you!”

Hernandez said he needs a vehicle so he can get his medicines, shop for groceries and not have to depend on others to take him to appointments.

Dara Lee, executive director of the Clay County HRA, said for most tenants at the housing complex, a wrecked vehicle would be impossible to replace.

“It’s a challenge to keep your independence. For many of our residents, it’s their most prized possession,” Lee said.

Since the crash, Agnes has worked to help Hernandez get access to a bike and tools that were with the truck.

“It’s a heartwarming story,” Agnes said. “We just hear so much gloom and doom, and we forget that there are people out there doing good deeds. It’s a reminder for us that we can still make a difference in people’s lives.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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