Eide to be honored for service to Prairie Transportation

Mary Eide

Local volunteer Mary Eide, project director of the Prairie Transportation Service of Philip, will be recognized for her countless hours of service to the community.

A brat, burgers and chips fundraiser for the Prairie Transportation Service will be held from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Fire Hall Park in Philip on Tuesday, July 22. The rising costs of fuel and the state-mandated minimum wage increases are causing financial needs for the service.

During the fundraiser, local Modern Woodmen of America members will honor Eide as a hometown hero. She will be recognized for dedication to the Prairie Transportation through the Modern Woodmen's Hometown Heroes program. Members of the Philip Modern Woodmen camp will present Eide with a certificate and a $100 award grant, to be presented to the charitable organization of her choice.

Modern Woodmen members and all guests are invited to attend.

Eide recalled, "In August of 1987, Cal Swift was officially hired as the first driver of the newly-formed Haakon County Prairie Transportation Service, Inc. Cal used to drive one day a week and gave rides for free just to get the program started." Eventually, Swift and Willis Blom both earned the Driver of the Year recognition from the multi-state Dakota Transit Association - Blom in 1993 and Swift in 1994. Blom is now retired and Swift has since deceased.

In 2006, Swift experienced a fall which damaged a vertebra. Back then, he said, "I didn't realize how good of a thing the Prairie Transport System was until I had to use it myself. A lot of people would almost never get out of their homes if it wasn't for this service."

"Cal and the rest of us started out using pickups and used wooden braces to hold wheelchairs while the patrons were kept warm in quilts," said Eide. "Today we have three very nice, modern vehicles. The service has a 2003 14-passenger van and a 2003 mini-van in Philip, and a 2006 van in Kadoka. All three can carry several passengers in wheelchairs."

The busses are available Monday through Friday, with some special trips on Saturdays and Sundays. Because of the busses, patrons have been able to attend community plays in Milesville and Midland. Special trips have included going to the Black Hills Playhouse in Custer State Park and the Christmas tree displays in the Capitol building at Pierre.

"At least one trip per week goes to Rapid City, mostly for medical reasons such as cataract appointments and specific tests," said Eide. Other passengers often go along to enjoy the ride and to window shop.

Eide stressed that the general public can ride the busses. Each time a person gets on, the cost is $1.00. The handicapped and elderly are served first, but "we need the business and the driver is there anyway," said Eide. Though many others help out, the main four drivers in Philip are Corky Thorson, Kay Ainslie, Kay Williams and Lee Schoninger. With others helping, Glenn and Norma Leen VandeGarde are the main drivers in Kadoka.

The continual raising of fuel costs is creating difficulties for Prairie Transportation. A round trip to Rapid City used to cost each passenger around $15, though a special trip for one person was $30. A limited state grant reimburses 75 cents on the dollar to Prairie Transportation to aide people who require assistance, though when that money is depleted "We are on our own," said Eide. "We have some people who can't pay. We watch that people who can afford to pay, do."

"We are a non-profit organization and keep going because of donations and memorials, and we have people who donate very generously. It's the younger people who put us on the street and keep us there. They donate so their parents and others can get rides," said Eide.

Eide is slowly easing out of the project director position while Kay Ainslie is easing into the responsibilities. Eide is and will remain a board director. Other board directors are Matt Schofield, Glenn VandeGarde, Jack Rush, Bruce Kroetch, Norm Payne and Beth Smith.