Insider Winter 2009

Article Highlights:
  • Kathy Lemieux - Ms. Wheelchair Michigan
  • Jimmy Priest - A Man with a Vision
  • Jim Steinsiek - Active Retirement
by Quest Staff on January 1, 2009 - 3:43pm

QUEST Vol. 16, No. 1

Ms. Wheelchair Michigan spreads message of self-advocacy and inclusion

Kathy Lemieux is featured on a Memorial Day parade float with Lions Club pal Leo.

Kathy Lemieux of Fruitport, Mich., has made the most of her time as Ms. Wheelchair Michigan 2008, spreading her message of self-advocacy and inclusion through media interviews, public speaking engagements, parades, festivals and other special events.

“I believe it’s my God-given opportunity to teach others not only how to advocate for themselves, but to use self-determination to promote inclusion,” says Lemieux, who has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy and uses a power wheelchair. “And I positively believe that our society in America, in 2008 and into the future, is ready for it and that discrimination and segregation are becoming things of the past — thank God.”

Lemieux, 38, says that, too often, people with disabilities let society dictate their level of inclusion, which she deems unacceptable.  Her main message, or “platform,” is that people with disabilities have the right and responsibility to speak up for what they need and want, because society can’t fix the problem if it doesn’t realize one exists. 

Aside from her activities as Ms. Wheelchair Michigan, Lemieux puts her message to work every day as the director of development for the MOKA Foundation, an organization which supports the mission of a nonprofit agency serving individuals with disabilities in Western Michigan. As director, she continually interacts with MOKA consumers through consulting and advocacy.

After she relinquishes her crown on February 28, Lemieux plans to stay involved with the Ms. Wheelchair organization and try to make some improvements to benefit future pageant winners. For example, currently the title does not come with a scholarship, and she wants to see that changed.

“While fundraising is an excellent exercise for the reigning queen, I think an initial award would allow the work of the next [queen’s] platform to begin immediately,” she says, noting that this, too, is an issue of inclusion.

“Almost all of the other pageants that are for people without disabilities automatically come with a scholarship.”

A man with a vision

Jimmy Priest: mechanic, student, entrepreneur

You could call him the Master of Junk.

Jimmy Priest of Middletown, Conn., has always loved taking old broken parts, repairing them and turning them into something new and improved.

A few years ago, Priest, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair, came across a rundown three-wheel mobility scooter and saw potential. Fixing and adding a discarded gas engine and some electric parts ordered through a catalog, Priest, 19, turned the broken scooter into a go-cart that goes 30 miles per hour.

“It’s basically something that I can ride around in, and I always wear a seatbelt,” he says. “It has different hand-grip controls to drive it with.”

Priest has turned his hobby into a business, Jimmy’s Lawn Mower & Small Engine Repair. Started as part of a vocational agriculture class project in high school, the business repairs and resells discarded gas-powered lawnmowers and other lawn maintenance equipment.

His business won him second place in the National Proficiency Awards for Agricultural Mechanics Repair and Maintenance Entrepreneurship, a competition sponsored by the Future Farmers of America (FFA).

“I’m just proud of myself that I developed a business that I could be recognized for at the national level,” he says.

Cultivating a career

Currently a freshman at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Priest operates his small business in his grandfather’s yard. Although no longer an FFA member because his college doesn’t have a chapter, he stays involved in the organization by volunteering with his high school chapter.

Priest plans to transfer to Central Connecticut State University and major in mechanical engineering. He says he’ll continue his business, but may have to downsize, depending on school demands.

His ‘retirement’ equates to non-stop activity

Jim Steinsiek is one of those people whose activity levels skyrocket as soon as they retire.

Jim Steinsiek at Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art

Steinsiek, 67, retired 12 years ago as a barber in Bixby, Okla., just outside Tulsa.  He had lived with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy for 30 years, and figured it was time to settle back.

Of course, he knew he’d be spending a certain amount of time in his clock repair shop, which formerly shared space with his barber shop but now is in his home.

And then his wife entered the picture. “I guess, from the way she was jumping up and down, that the new retiree puttering around the house was getting on her nerves,” he recalls.

His spouse learned that the well-known Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa was looking for docents. Jim applied for the job, and has been there ever since. He works five days a week, manning the front desk, answering phones and collecting admission fees.

Of course, there’s also the nearby Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, an organization that offers a wide array of courses (in everything from arts and crafts to gymnastics) for adults with disabilities. Steinsiek teaches stained glass classes several times a week.

And there’s also the mini-storage facility that friends own. Steinsiek answers the facility’s phones 24/7 (he has the calls transferred to his house). As needed he’ll drive his adapted van (it has a swivel driver’s seat and hand-operated brake) 20 miles to the storage place to sign up new renters and collect payments.

Oh, and there’s the clocks. He doesn’t make them, just repairs them. “I prefer to work on the antique wind-up key kind,” he says. “Of course, people always come in with their ‘antique,’ draggin’ an electrical cord behind it.”

He sighs … then gets down to work.

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