Retired Brainerd mechanic spends free time fixing wheelchairs for veterans

A retired auto repair mechanic and business owner in Brainerd is using his special skills to help veterans in need.

In his free time, John Stram takes old and non-working motorized wheelchairs and gives them a new lease on life.

"It's been in me since I was a kid working on mechanical stuff."

For a couple of hours every day, John Stram goes to the workshop next to his house to use the tools of his former trade to help veterans get a new set of wheels. "That gives someone a break, and it's something I can do."

For more than a decade, Stram has restored a handful of motorized wheelchairs every year, repairing or replacing damaged seat cushions, dead batteries, and worn-out electronics -- and giving them to veterans in need.

80-year-old John Stram needs a wheelchair to get around himself. But he still finds time every day to use his mechanical knowhow to help others. (FOX 9)

Stram says he used to own more than half a dozen auto repair shops around Minnesota and started this labor of love when he fixed up a wheelchair for a fellow church member's sibling. Since then, word has spread -- mostly among former service members who often find it difficult to navigate the red tape necessary to get a wheelchair on their own.

"I know how to get through the system now and sometimes I just show people how to get through the system and sometimes they cannot and it's really tough to go through it."

Stram knows firsthand how important it is for people who need a wheelchair to get one, because he has needed one to get around himself for 30 years.

He says he has nerve damage, which makes it difficult and painful to walk even short distances. So he's happy to use his mechanical skills to help veterans stay mobile, free of charge.

"It keeps me busy," says Stram. "Someone else gets some help for themselves."

Stram says community members donate most of the wheelchairs. Someone even left him their wheelchair in their will. He says he will continue to help former service members get rolling for as long as he can.

"They are thankful and I just say listen," he says. "This is what I can do. Now you out and do something for someone that you can do."