By Dick Wolfsie
I’ve probably called my friend Bob Haverstick at home several thousand times over the past 10 years. He never answers. Not that he knows it’s me: it’s because he is on the phone making an appointment for a feisty octogenarian to get a rose tattoo on her shoulder, or arranging for a 93-year-old woman to hit a baseball during an Indians pre-game at Victory Field, or making it possible for a WWII veteran to board a battleship like the one he served on 60 years ago.
The list goes on. Since the year 2000, Bob has spent each day granting wishes to seniors and terminally ill adults through the organization he founded, Never Too Late. But he’s no Percy Ross. He never had the money nor the inclination to simply dole out cash. Instead, fulfillment of each final request has been the result of the vast array of contacts Bob has built over the years—people eager to assist in making dreams of our aging population come true. “I just connect the dots,” says Haverstick. “As soon as I hear what the wish is, the adrenalin flows…. There is no time to waste.” Indeed there isn’t, and Bob knows that many of the people who have benefitted from his time and generosity may soon pass on. “Knowing that we were able to tie up loose ends for someone is so important, even more important to the loved ones in that person’s life.”
In fact, it is usually friends and family who make the initial appeals. “People of that generation are so unselfish they wouldn’t think to ask anything for themselves.“ Which is why there were times when Bob thought his concept lacked merit. “Back in 2000 the wishes just weren’t coming in,” he remembers, “and I was ready to ditch the whole idea.” Enter former Indianapolis Star writer Bob Shaughnessy who highlighted the fledgling organization in his column, including the newest wish Bob was working on: Edwin Jackson, suffering with Alzheimer’s, wanted to get back on a tractor like the one he used when he was a farmer. “The man was visibly affected by the whole thing. He was young again. He was renewed.”
And so was Bob. He pressed for more than another decade. Some of his favorite wishes? Albert and Esther McDaniel who wanted to celebrate their 60th anniversary by skydiving; Eloise Overdorf whose dream was to ride in a dragster (she was upset they wouldn’t let her drive); and then there was Jimmy Dunham, the on-board mechanic from the 1935 winning racecar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He wanted to come back and watch the 500 for the first time in 70 years. Mission accomplished.
This past week, 93-year-old Naomi Beaver climbed into the back of a two-seater racecar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Driver Davey Hamilton took her for the spin of her life, topping 180 on the straightaways. Bob stood watching as she reached the finish line, knowing Never Too Late was near the finish line, as well. After more than 2,260 wishes, he has decided to call it quits sometime this summer.
For 11 years, Bob Haverstick never paid himself a penny. So you could say he never personally benefitted from his efforts…but you’d be wrong. In his big heart, he knows he made a difference. In his photo albums, he’s got the smiling faces to prove it.
As someone who played a very small part in making some of those wishes come true, I know how much Never Too Late will be missed. But here’s the good news: Maybe now when I call, Bob will answer the phone.