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Ransom Towers resident lends helping hand

John Townsend has been providing transportation for his neighbors to vital doctor's visits, pharmacy trips and to the grocery store. Now he needs a little help to continue helping others.
Linda Calabrese, John Townsend, Helen Evans (from L to R)

Linda Calabrese, John Townsend, Helen Evans (from L to R) /Eric Tank

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How you can help

Help John Townsend continue to serve his neighbors by donating funds for vehical repair. Mr. Townsend can be reached by phone at 616-719-1546.

John Townsend

John Townsend

Johnny's 2008 Dodge Caravan

Johnny's 2008 Dodge Caravan

About a year ago Anne Loveless, resident of Ransom Tower senior living apartments needed help finding a ride to the doctor's office. She reached out to resident service specialist Eulondon Reeves who in turn called "Johnny." Since then the man has stayed quite busy. 

John Townsend 67, was born in Mississippi and lived in Memphis before coming to Grand Rapids in 1967. He was one of the first cooks to be employed at the Holiday Inn on Ann Street. Since about 2000, Townsend has worked as a cook at St. Mary's Hospital before taking an early retirement. The point, Townsend tells me, is that he has always been a hard worker. His mother believed in a tough love type of discipline that he says contributed to his work ethic. 

The day Reeves contacted Townsend (Johnny to his friends) Anne Loveless was in terrible pain. She suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis and requires monthly IV treatment with prescribed medications. Miss Anne, as Townsend refers to her, was crying and and had no transportation or gas money to get to her appointment. Townsend didn't have any money for gas either. But he had a van. So he found Julie Habens, a friend of Loveless's who also lives at Ransom and asked her if he could borrow some cash. She loaned him the money without batting an eye. 

"We're all on social security and sometimes we have to pool our resources together," says Townsend.

Many residents at Ransom Tower have health problems that require ongoing treatment. Despite the in-house support services, government agencies and other social services there remains a need to be filled. Townsend fills that gap. He said the word spread fast, even to other facilities like Mt. Mercy and Delaware Manor. According to Townsend, both have reached out to him for help with their own residents and expressed a desire to have someone like himself available on-site. 

For the past year Townsend's transportation services, which include trips to the emergency room, doctor appointments, prescription pick-ups and grocery list shopping for wheel chair bound residents, have increased dramatically.

For example, 85 year old Helen Evans regularly depends on Townsend to visit her sister and to get to her doctor appointments. His friend Linda Calabrese who is on oxygen relies on him for groceries. 

Most often Townsend pays with his own money for gas, car insurance and maintenance. Because of the constant need for his services he has, with the help of Reeves, distributed flyers throughout the apartment complex promoting his services. He only suggests a donation for gas for those who can afford it. And Townsend makes it very clear that he will not make any runs to the liquor store. 

Townsend admits that he has struggled with alcoholism for most of his adult life. The humility in his voice when he reflects on those years suggests the kind of man he is today. 

"I don't drink anymore. I stopped drinking June 21 of 2009," say Townsend. "I'll be honest with you. When I first came to Grand Rapids I was not a nice guy for the first 25 years. I guess you could say I'm trying to make up for past things." 

Yet John's motivation to make amends sounds more than a empty penance. And the four women that are sitting in on our interview testify to that by their very presence. 

Townsend's problems these days don't involve a bottle, but rather his car. His Dodge caravan to be precise. He has already spent his rent money on having the issue looked at but says there is still a starter problem and general tune ups that need to be fixed. He says that he is not so much worried about rent, as that can be negotiated to a payment plan. It's the vehicle that concerns him most, basically because without it his neighbors are left without reliable transportation to much needed services. 

Reeves, Loveless and Evans have all wrote letters to the Mayor expressing the great loss it would be if Townsend was unable to continue to provide services. Letters such as these don't go unnoticed at the Mayor's office. They lend credence to Townsend's appeal and the office can connect him with local organizations that may be able to help. 

"This is what keeps me active. Helping these people that need help. It makes me sleep better at night," says Townsend. 

Donations to help Townsend reach his goal of $215 can be received by Townsend by calling 616-719-1546. Townsend says he needs approximately $215 to have a manifold leak and starter repaired. 


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