Having reached lofty goal, Crispen says he’s retiring from shuttling Shriners’ patients

Bob Crispen shows the logbook he’s kept since 1982 of the more than 365 trips he’s driven to take patients to the Shriners Hospital for Children. Each trip is a minimum of 12 hours long, and an average of 356 miles of driving to either Chicago or Cincinnati. Crispen says.
Bob Crispen shows the logbook he’s kept since 1982 of the more than 365 trips he’s driven to take patients to the Shriners Hospital for Children. Each trip is a minimum of 12 hours long, and an average of 356 miles of driving to either Chicago or Cincinnati. Crispen says. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Over the past several decades, Bob Crispen has literally put the rubber to the road in helping people – namely, children in need of specialized medical services.

Recently he reached a milestone and his personal goal, making his 365th trip chauffeuring kids and their families to a Shriners Hospital for Children.

On Dec. 3 he surpassed that goal with trip No. 367 – one for each day of a leap year plus an extra for good measure.

Crispen, who is 84 and a rural Huntington resident, is a member of the Huntington Amity Masonic Lodge and often attends meetings at the Mt. Etna Masonic Lodge. He found his niche back in 1977 when he joined the lodge. In the early years he volunteered to drive during his vacation time, and later, after retirement, spent a lot more of his time making the trips to either the Shriners Hospital in Chicago or the one in Cincinnati.

“I was with the Civil Service, so I could take vacation time pretty much whenever I wanted to,” he says. “I think I only did two trips in the whole of ’77.”

That number quickly escalated, as the need for drivers increased. In 1982, Crispen bought a record book to keep track of his trips, which now average between two and three per month.

“It was just one of the things that I picked up on that I could do to help the Shriners in transporting the patients back and forth to Chicago, and also to Cincinnati, OH,” he says. “Just after getting to know a lot of the other guys that drove through, more-or-less, fellowship, a lot of us have started driving a lot more. We’re always wanting drivers, because to make a trip like that for an all-day period, you almost have to be retired.”

One thing he hasn’t kept track of is how many children he has taken to the hospital, which does not charge families for the medical treatments provided to the patients. Oftentimes he has taken as many as three different families in the same van to their appointments at the hospital.

Crispen often sets his alarm for 3 a.m. to make the journey – sometimes earlier – then heads to either Marion or Fort Wayne to pick up the van he’ll drive to his hospital destination. The trips take about 12 hours to make and are about 356 miles in length to either hospital. Multiplied by 365, that amounts to more than 4,380 volunteer hours driving a whopping 129,940 miles. And that is just since he’s been keeping records.

“It feels pretty great, really, because it is a lot of time-consuming, but if I can help a family driving up here, that is a big expense to them that’s saved, that they don’t have to do themselves,” he says. “If those parents can take care of those kids like that, I feel that’s no time at all that I’ve invested.”

Crispen’s wife, Shirley, sometimes fills in when the trip scheduler cannot find a second driver, as rules mandate having two drivers on board per trip. She has made 11 trips, he adds.

Shirley acknowledges she is often a “Masonic widow,” but not with any resentment.

“When he goes, I get a day I can go out shopping, and I get to do what I want to do,” she says, with a laugh. “He enjoys it, so it’s one thing he really likes to do, and as long as he can do it, I’m for it.”

Some of the trips Crispen has made will forever remain standouts in his memory, including one he took once to Chicago.
“We were up there in the waiting room, and this little girl, she was probably about 4 years old, and she had no arms and no legs,” he recalls.

“She was rolling around on the floor playing ball with two other patients out there. I can still see that little girl.”

Another time, Crispen met a “celebrity” – the little boy born without arms who was featured in the Shriners Hospital TV spots.

“We took the patient (to the hospital), a couple with their young daughter – I think she was about 2 or 3 at that time – and she was born the same way. The family was interfacing with this other family, that has raised their son that doesn’t have arms,” he says. “They interfaced and I do have pictures, that I got to take with the other driver when we were up at the hospital and we were talking with them at the time. They wanted to take pictures, and we took our pictures also.”

Recently the Masonic Lodge at Mt. Etna honored Crispen for his years of volunteerism by presenting him with a plaque recognizing his accomplishments.

“At age 80, he (Crispen) told me, ‘You know, I wish I had started earlier,’” says Chuck Clampitt, head of the Mt. Etna lodge. “He said, ‘After age 80 I’m still feeling good, and I’m confident in my driving – and he’s still driving … he’s just one of those guys who is really dedicated.”

Clampitt says Crispen is a great example of how retired people can make a big difference in donating their time, talents and expertise in service to the community.

“A lot of people think, ‘Gee, I’m 65 years old or I’m 70 years old and I can’t help; I can’t contribute. There’s nothing out there for me.’ And there is so much,” Clampitt says.

He adds that money from the fund-raisers the Shrine holds, including raffles, onion sales and Shrine Circus proceeds goes to the Shriners hospitals.

“It’s for the purpose of helping children, at no cost,” he says.

Last year, Crispen marked another milestone, when he reached his 50-year member status with the Masonic Lodge. He also belongs to the York Rite, Scottish Rite, Legion of Honor, Hospital Unit and also the Eastern Star along with his wife.

“It keeps us pretty busy,” he adds.

Crispen’s latest trip, on Thursday, Dec. 20, was also most likely to be his last trip, he says. His wife accompanied him in driving on the final run.

“My goal was to make 365 trips, which I figured was a year’s period of time of donation,” he reckons. “I’m getting to the age where I just feel it’s time to slow down … but I know I’ll miss it if I do.”

“I’ve heard that before,” chimes in Shirley.