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Volunteers come together to help veteran after devastating northwest Minnesota storm

DAV members helped move trees, restore power for 89-year-old in Becker County

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Veteran Orlee Root's home on Cotton Lake (far right) was surrounded by downed trees when Park Rapids DAV driver Rich Batcho arrived to take him to a medical appointment and learned Root had been without power for five days. Soon help was on the way and four hours later downed trees had been removed and power restored.
Contributed / Darius Simon
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BECKER COUNTY, Minn. — An 89-year-old veteran received more than a ride the morning of June 27, when volunteer driver Rich Batcho of Nevis, Minnesota, showed up in the Disabled American Veterans van to transport him from his residence on Cotton Lake to a medical appointment.

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Rich Batcho

When Batcho went to pick up Orlee Root at his home in the country, he noticed trees had fallen in his yard and onto his house and garage. The driver asked Root about the storm damage and learned he had been without power since June 22.

Since his well didn’t work without electricity, he was hauling milk jugs full of water from the lake about 50 yards away from his house to flush his toilet and was finding it difficult to continue due to health and mobility issues. He had called some electricians, but was told they were too busy, as there had been a lot of storm damage in the area.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Batcho said. “I asked if I could call for some help for him, and that’s how the ball got rolling.”

Batcho contacted Darius Simon, formerly of the Hubbard County Veterans Service Office and now working with the DAV office at the state level, to see if help was available to get the power back on for this veteran.

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Down trees included one on the pump house. DAV volunteers had everything cleaned up within four hours.
Contributed / Darius Simon

Simon lives in the Detroit Lakes area and quickly responded. “Rich sent me the address and I ran out to take a look,” he said. “We’ve been fighting with storms here, so I had all my saws in the truck.

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Darius Simon

“Once at the veteran’s house, I observed six trees that had fallen and a power line that was down on the ground. The power line was disconnected, but you could see where it had pulled from the power pole. I began cutting the fallen trees and removed them from the house and garage. I called the local DAV commander for Detroit Lakes, Jason Bristlin, and asked if he could help. He came right over.”

Simon and Bristlin were cutting trees when Root returned from his VA appointment.

“He couldn’t believe people came that quickly to help him out,” Batcho said.

When they went inside, Simon said it was very warm. “I don’t know how much longer he could have kept going without water and a way to stay cool,” he said.

Bristlin got hold of an electrician, and by 3:30 p.m., the power was back on.

“Everything took place within four hours,” Simon said. “It was a collaborative effort between three volunteer veterans to get this disabled veteran power and water. He just got out of the hospital recently and mostly uses a walker. Without Rich taking that extra step to ask how he was doing, we would never have known and he would still have been without electricity and water. The timing really worked out. He needed help and we were able to put it all together quickly.”

Simon said DAV volunteers are willing to assist any veteran with any need, and help is just a phone call away.

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“DAV chapters are located throughout the state,” he said.

Help is available by calling any local Veterans Service Office or Simon’s cell phone at 218-850-1805.

“This is amazing,” Stephen Whitehead, executive director of DAV of Minnesota, said when he learned what had happened. "Not just the action taken by the volunteer driver, but also by the two Park Rapids DAV chapter members that stepped up and took immediate action.”

Related Topics: DAVVETERANSBECKER COUNTY
Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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