Greenwood bus driver named Caregiver of the Year

POSTED: April 19, 2017

It all started over a heart-shaped pizza on a cold winter afternoon in Garfield Park. Maria Dampier was a single mom trying to make ends meet. She wasn’t interested in dating. But then Bill Dampier asked her out for pizza, and she said, yes. They were both bus drivers at Perry Township Schools.

They were married on Dec. 30, 1972. On that happy occasion, she couldn’t imagine how things would turn out. Instead of growing old together at home where they built their lives around four children, Maria spends her days caring for Bill as Alzheimer’s robs him of his ability to walk, say more than a word or two, or to care for himself.

She does it out of love. She does it, she says, because it’s just the right thing to do. So, she’s surprised at being named CICOA’s Caregiver of the Year. Her daughter nominated her for the award. When CICOA posted the finalists on its Facebook page, Maria received 652 votes from the public.

“She possesses much strength and courage to keep pushing forward despite the obstacles,” her daughter wrote.

“It’s hard to see someone deteriorate that was so able-bodied,” Maria says. “There wasn’t a thing he couldn’t fix.”

At age 18, Bill took over his dad’s milk delivery business for Golden Gurnsey Farms. He drove a bus, and for 42 years was the night custodian at Greenwood Schools. They both worked hard and saved enough money to buy a house and boat on Lake Lemon, where they spent weekends and summer vacations water skiing.

Bill, 80, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about seven years ago, but things took a turn in December 2015, when he fell and broke his hip and femur. After 100 days in rehab, he showed no signs of improving, and Maria made the difficult decision to place her husband in a nursing home.

Nearly every day since, Maria drives her morning bus route, then heads to the nursing home to care for Bill. She stays until it’s time for her afternoon route, then she returns again, staying until about 8 p.m. She bathes her husband, puts lotion on him and tucks him in bed.

“I just want to be there, because I want to be the one who takes care of him,” she says. “Enjoy your life with the person you love.”

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