Backroads Indiana: Former classmate always willing to lend a hand

This photo was taken earlier this summer at the Scottsburg Walmart. That’s Ron Coomer on the left, and that’s me on the right wearing a Moon-Pie baseball cap.

Ron and I graduated from Austin High School together in 1977 and were teammates on the high school basketball team. Ron was a three-sport letterman at Austin. He was a stud in baseball and a champion shot-putter and discus thrower on the track team. His strength was unparalleled in the halls of AHS. He was the strongest guy in the high school.

Ron was an all-around great teammate, and after basketball practice guys without cars would pile into his red Ford, and he would drop them off at home one by one. Frequently, I was one of those guys. Ron never complained about having to take so many guys home. He seemed to enjoy it.

In the mid-1980s, Ron contracted a serious eye disease. As his eyesight began to fail, he was forced to quit doing things he loved. But Austin’s strong boy wasn’t about to quit, and he became determined to get back in the workforce.

Ron was no complainer and certainly no quitter, so 26 years ago, he started in the lawn and garden section at Walmart, where he is the department manager and resident pro. Customer after customer seek his opinion and advice on anything to do with gardening, flowers, insect control, lawn mowers and anything else they can think of.

I recently was in Walmart, and a customer with a bad back needed some help. He needed 30 large steppingstones and 35 bags of river pebble weighing 30 pounds each loaded into his truck.

Ron’s department was shorthanded that day, but this wasn’t a problem. Amazingly, Ron hand-loaded that truck by himself in just a few short minutes. Ron Coomer is my age — 57 years old.

Ron’s eyesight is not a problem for him. He won’t let it be. He clearly sees the things that matter, and his customers can clearly see he’s there to help them.

And that’s a good day when you’re helped by Austin’s strong boy — after all these years still the strongest man I know.

Mike Barrett is a local resident with an interest in history. Send comments to