Dee Kimmons, 71, of Merrill, was born with deformities of the arms and legs. She has never walked a step in her life, but has taken great strides to overcome her own disability and help brighten the lives of others.
Dee proves that people with major disabilities can live a full life.
For the past three years, Dee has been making personalized birthday cards and holiday sheets for the residents of Pine Crest Nursing Home. She learns about the residents to create a special poem just for them. She even makes the envelopes.
“You won’t find any of these in card shops,” Dee said.
She makes hundreds of cards each year. People also ask her to make cards for them to give to other people.
Dee was recently honored to receive Pine Crest’s Volunteer of the Year award.
“I about burst,” she said. “Out of 125 people I was very proud to get it.”
Dee was inspired to begin writing after her friends, Nancy and Neil Kramer, took her to a camp for the handicapped in 2002. She was one of about 400 campers there that year.
After she came home to Merrill, Pine Crest was her first thought when she decided to get involved with volunteering.
“I was already going there to visit so I thought, well I bet they’d enjoy getting a birthday card,” Dee said. “It was really just laid on my heart to do that. I’m a firm believer in God and it just seemed that he told me to do this.”
Dee spends as much time as she can at Pine Crest, and has found the experience of volunteering to be infinitely rewarding.
“By sheer determination I started up and it’s been great,” she said. “People absolutely love it. They’re always anxious to see what I’m going to come up with next.”
While understandably proud of the joy she brings to others, Dee is typically humble about her achievements.
“I only do this for the fun of it,” she said. “I don’t do it to bring any glory to me. I want to bring the glory to God because he’s the one who gave me the gift.”
Dee’s entire life has been a series of triumphs over adversity, much of it presented by her disability and some by other people who couldn’t see past the disability.
“I don’t let anything get in my way. When I want to do something I get it done,” Dee said. “I don’t see myself as being handicapped, because I’ve never known anything else and people that have known me for a long time tell me they don’t even see my disability.”
Dee, the sixth youngest from a family of eight children, remembers sitting up for the first time when she was 2 years old, and she remembers something her mother told her when she was a child.
When Dee was about 10 years old, her mother asked her to do something and Dee responded, “I can’t.”
“She looked at me and said ‘I don’t ever want to hear that word come out of your mouth again,’ so it didn’t,” Dee remembers.
When Dee was young the services weren’t available as they are now. People with disabilities were seen for their disabilities, not their potential.
“I was born in an era where kids like me, nobody knew that we were there,” she said.
When she was 8 years old, Dee had to go to Eau Claire to go to a school for the handicapped.
“It was mandatory,” she said. “I had to go away to school because there was nothing around here. They didn’t do then like they do now. Eau Claire was the nearest one.”
She stayed with a woman who made her go to bed at 6 p.m. every night. She had her supper and went to bed.
“So that’s the way it was until I was 15 years old,” she said. “My Mom and Dad got to come and get me for Christmas and Easter and that was all.”
After she came home at 15, she was the first student on the Lincoln County Home Program. She gradutated from Merrill High School in 1958.
“I graduated from high school on the A honor roll, gold tassel. And I’m also proud of that,” she said.
A couple years after high school she started babysitting for family members. She lived with the families for as long as seven years at a time. She did that for 30 years.
“And then I said that was enough,” she said. “After that I thought I need to get out on my own now. That was enough babysitting.”
She has been in her own apartment now for 18 years.
Out of necessity, Dee has become something of a tinkerer and inventor, modifying and creating items to make her surroundings adapt to her disability. For example, she can’t pick her arms up off the table when typing, so she’s developed her own handy gadget to help her type.
Dee holds strong to her faith in God, and for good reason.
Dee had prayed for someone to take her on a trip. Shortly after, friends of hers bought a van and took her to Tennessee, which she has now visited four times.
“I cannot help but believe in God because the things that I have prayed about have come true,” she said.
While Dee has certainly experienced her share of frustration over the years, she never lets herself indulge in self-pity.
“Sometimes it wears on you, why can’t I just do this the way I want to,” she said. “God sees me through it. He don’t bring you to it if he can’t bring you through it.
“I just want people to see that life goes on no matter what. I could sit here and be miserable all the time but it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I wouldn’t have the friends I’ve got now. “