Honk if you're 91!
Truck drivin' woman Louise Spencer becomes a media sensation when she takes a lesson with instructor Tom Gierok at MSC Southeast
Story by Katryn Conlin
Photos by Ron Regan
Just a few days before her 92nd birthday, Louise Spencer ticked off one of her "bucket list" items: driving an 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck.
Louise, who lives at Chandler Place in the Twin Cities, had always dreamed of getting behind the wheel of a big rig. Her late husband was an over-the-road trucker for 30 years, but she had never driven one herself -- though she secretly wished she could.
When Webb Weiman heard about her dream, he knew he could help make it come true. His California based non-profit, JUMP!, helps seniors achieve what's left on their bucket lists and inspires them to reach for their dreams.
Webb's first challenge was to track down a truck and someone who could teach Louise how to drive it. He lucked out on his first call. MSC Southeast truck driving instructor Tom Gierok's immediate response was "Let's do it!"
Tom Gierok, Louise Spencer, and Webb Weiman
With the day set for Friday, September 2, Tom needed to find a truck with an automatic transmission. He turned to one of his past students, John Brom of Riverland Trucking, who donated the use of a truck for the day. It was hooked up to MSC Southeast's signature tractor-trailer, which sports colorful college program graphics.
When Louise arrived at the college on Friday afternoon, she was besieged by news crews. TV stations from La Crosse (News 8000), Rochester (ABC 6 News), and the Twin Cities (KARE-11) made the trek to Winona, along with newspapers from Winona and Rochester.
Louise handled the media attention like a seasoned professional, patiently answering questions through several interviews. Then the big moment came. She was surrounded by cameras of all sorts -- TV cameras, still cameras, iPhones, and a host of go-pro cameras -- as she rolled her walker across the pavement to board the truck.
There she found a surprise arranged by Tom Gierok. On the driver's side door, he had attached a decal with "Louise" spelled out in pink script.
Once on board, Tom showed her the various controls of the truck. Without hesitation, she started up the truck, then took it for a circuit around the Norris P. Abts Transportation Center's large parking lot. Louise appeared completely confident as she drove off to the college's 27-acre truck driving range, with photographers, reporters, and college staff chasing behind on foot and by car.
"She's pretty gutsy," Wanda McCarra, one of Spencer's daughters told Chris Rogers from the Winona Post. "Everybody sees her as this sweet old lady, but she's a firecracker. She's got a very gentle appearance, but she's pretty determined."
After the drive was over, Louise and Tom returned to their starting point. There they found a row of MSC Southeast staff members holding up letters reading "H-O-N-K I-F Y-O-U-'-R-E 9-1-!" Louise obliged with a final blast of the horn.
Dr. Duran presents Louise with an honorary certificate of completion.
As Louise climbed down from the truck, MSCS President Dr. Dorothy Duran presented her with an honorary certificate of completion. Webb Weiman had arranged a "Keep on Truckin' " birthday cake for the occasion and all gathered to sing "Happy Birthday."
"I feel like I'm going to wake up tomorrow, and it's a dream," she told Kyle Farris from the Winona Daily News. "But there's no way I could have dreamed this."
Then it was on to one last interview with the press.
"I think these big trucks on the road are beautiful," she exclaimed to Rochester Post Bulletin reporter Brian Todd. "Think about it. What would we do without them? They are so important."
Tom Gierok, who has taught thousands of students in his long career at the college, will always hold a special place in his heart for Louise. He said, "If you have a dream or a wish and you're willing to pursue it, you can do anything. I feel so fortunate to be part of this."
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Special Thanks To:
John Brom, Riverland Trucking
Jim and Debbie Remlinger
Ron Regan, www.reganphotography.com
Tom and Pam Gierok
Webb Weiman, Sydney Weisman, JUMP!
Lauren Meintsma, Katie Westberg, and Robyn Johnson, The Goodman Group/Chandler Place