WINDHAM – Dennis Root pulls out of the parking lot behind the senior center and town offices, then turns onto North Lowell Road, bound for the Pine Hill Retirement Home.
Root is Windham’s wheel man, a volunteer who drives citizens in the town van. He is in his 13th year on the job.
It’s 9 o’clock on a Wednesday morning, 71,000 miles on the odometer, 10 degrees on the thermometer. The van is warm because someone in the town offices thought to start it up and run the heater before Root arrived for his rounds.
Root, 68, is a retiree who never had a delivery this special in his days as a rural mail carrier.
His six regular passengers, ages 61 to 93, are on their weekly shopping trip to Walmart in Salem. Their transportation won’t cost them. It is on the town’s dime, a courtesy service started at the urging of citizens in the 1990s.
Selectmen opposed the idea when first proposed back then, but town officials since have come around.
They recently voted to discontinue the town’s participation in the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation. That would have cost Windham $13,000 next year.
Board members concluded it was a better value for taxpayers to put more money into the town’s own service if needed. They are putting aside up to $8,000 for the van.
“The first one we pick up is the only one in a nursing home,” Root said Wednesday. “She’s 93.”
He helps Nora Campanella, a retired millworker from Lawrence, down the walkway and into the van.
Campanella is displaced from her usual seat, the one near the heater, by the presence of an unexpected guest traveler. Root helps buckle her up in the center bench seat of the 15-passenger Ford van.
Campanella has no shopping list with her. She will browse the aisles.