When Covington City Councilwoman Fran Hollum started volunteering at Peace Lutheran in Covington and helping two blind couples, she didn’t know she was going to make a life-long dream come true.
Two years ago, Hollum started helping the couples by going to their homes and reading their mail to them, or helping them with anything else they needed. One woman in particular, 66-year-old Sharon Schauer, ended up doing something she never thought she would do — drive a car.
Schauer was born prematurely. The excess of oxygen doctors gave premature babies at that time caused her blindness, Hollum said. Schauer’s blindness hasn’t stopped her from living a full life. It was helpful that growing up in a household of several kids, Schauer was never treated differently from the rest of her siblings.
“If her siblings were out playing and running, she would be out there with them too,” Hollum said. “If she fell, she would just get back up.”
There were some things she could just not do, like drive. The closest she ever came to driving was when her father let her sit in the driver’s side when she was a child. But that was it. Now at 66 years old, Schauer thought if it hadn’t happened by now, she was never going to drive.
Little did she know, Hollum had a plan.
One day, Hollum mentioned to Schauer that she had crossed something off of her bucket list, and then asked her if there was anything on her bucket list she wanted to do. She said she wanted to drive.
That’s when Hollum had the idea of going to some abandoned parking lot and letting Schauer drive her car. During a City Council meeting a few months ago, Hollum asked Covington Chief of Police Andrew McCurdy if she would get in trouble for doing that and if he knew of a safe place to do it. McCurdy came up with the best idea, he suggested doing it at an open course, such as Pacific Raceway where the Kent driving school, 911 Driving School, teaches driving students how to drive. McCurdy also suggested using a driver’s education car, which has extra safety features like an extra brake.
After about four months of planning and contacting the 911 Driving School instructor to get it all set up, it was all ready to go. On Feb. 27 Hollum told Schauer to be ready at 3 p.m. because she had a surprise for her.
Hollum, McCurdy, Deputy Bill Michels who teaches driving for the Enumclaw 911 Driving School and Buck Mierke from the driving school all showed up to help Schauer’s wish come true.
Michels instructed Schauer how to drive by pushing her hand to let her know the correct way to accelerate, Hollum said. Michels had her driving around for about 30 minute and said she did a better job than most first-time teenage drivers. McCurdy then took Schauer in his police car and did the course as if he was training a police officer.
“Bill was so patient and gentle and Sharon had a great time,” McCurdy said in an email. “Bill has been a driving instructor for decades and is one of the only people on the planet who I would trust to take on something like this, it is not something I would recommend that anyone else try at home.”
It’s been more than two weeks since Schauer drove and she is still talking about it, Hollum said. Everyone involved was so excited to take part in this.
“You should have seen McCurdy’s face as he watched Sharon drive, it was like a sunbeam coming out of him,” Hollum said.
Everyday tasks that we take for granted, such as driving and checking for an expiration date, are hard for someone blind like Schauer. Hollum has learned a lot in the last two years she has been helping the blind couples and was so happy to be able to do this for Schauer.