You may think that you’ve never seen Ron Hupper, but if you‘ve lived in Chilliwack and you’ve ever driven along Keith Wilson Road, you almost certainly have.
Do you remember a guy sitting in a motorized wheelchair at the end of a driveway, waving at you as you drove by? Do you remember asking yourself, ‘Who is that guy?’
That was Ron, a local celebrity of sorts who epitomized the saying, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’
Nearly nine years ago, he suffered a bad stroke that left the right side of his body completely paralyzed. Beforehand, he was an active guy who owned his own business and traveled the world with his wife.
Having all of that taken away would leave most of us wallowing in self pity, but not the man that Taylor Roseboom called ‘Papa.’
“When he got home after months of physical therapy in Vancouver and Coquitlam, it was really hard for him because he used to be the man of house,” said Taylor, Ron’s 20-year-old granddaughter. “My Grandma started bringing him outside when she was gardening, and while he was out there, occasionally a family member would drive by an honk.
“So he ended up going to the end of the driveway to sit, and that’s where it started.”
The stroke left Ron mostly non-verbal. He could say a few words, like yes and no and good.
“And a few choice curse words,” Taylor added with a laugh.
But the stroke didn’t take away his smile, and that’s what drew people in. They’d drive by and there he’d be, relaxing in his wheelchair, grinning and waving.
People started honking, which encouraged him to wave even more.
“It became this thing where he wanted to go out there every day, because it gave him something to smile about,” Taylor said. “He grabbed his newspaper first thing in the morning and then he’d come inside to eat breakfast, but some days he’d be out there before he even had breakfast and my Grandma would have to call out, ‘Honey! You haven’t had your toast yet!
“If there was snow outside and his wheelchair couldn’t make it, or it was super rainy, he would be so frustrated. But even when he was stuck inside, he could still hear people honking their horns. I’d be like, ‘Oh Papa. There’s your fans honking for you.”
Soon enough, some of the more curious among the passers-by started pulling over to introduce themselves. People brought him cookies and brownies, and one kind-hearted soul brought him a blanket to keep him warm on chillier days.
“People started saying to me, ‘Hey, have you ever seen that guy over on Keith Wilson?’ and I’d say, ‘He’s my grandpa!’” Taylor said.
Ron’s health started deteriorating in March of this year, with a series of strokes and seizures landing him in the hospital for several months. Around four weeks ago he was moved to a care home, and doctors discovered two untreatable brain bleeds.
“It was hard with COVID because we weren’t allowed to visit him,” Taylor said. “It was hard for him because he didn’t have his Keith Wilson Road anymore, and I didn’t realize so many people truly enjoyed seeing him until he wasn’t there anymore. The day he died, I heard eight cars honk out there and I thought, ‘Oh my. He’s not even here anymore and people are still honking for him.”
Taylor posted the news to Facebook Saturday and was shocked by the response. Two hundred and six heartfelt comments (as of Sunday afternoon) from people whose lives Ron touched, every one of them read and appreciated by Taylor.
“My Papa was a really tough man. What he went through was so hard and it was so hard watching him go through it,” she said. “The biggest thing I learned from him is that I’m never going to treat life like it’s short or dwell on things, ever, because he adjusted and overcame something horrible and he was still our Papa.
“I will always push through and persevere, just like he did.”