MANTENO | David Thiele has delivered all his life.
He drove fuel trucks in the Vietnam War to ensure tanks always were ready for action. Back in the states, he drove tanker trucks up and down highways for decades. And little changed when he first moved into the Illinois Veterans Home at Manteno 12 years ago.
He delivers the U.S. mail and newspapers there daily — and so much more.
Sue Hildebrand, the activity and therapy director in Thiele's wing, calls him "the easygoing guy" for his disarming and helpful nature.
"He helps everyone," she said about Thiele, 63, a native of Rensselaer, Ind., and a U.S. Army veteran.
"He'll come by and ask if I need anything and bring me the (paper so I can read the) weather. He'll talk to the other veterans," Hildebrand said. "We need a dozen more like him."
The route starts when he hits the concrete halls linking the different residential buildings across the street. Even with his mobile cart, it isn't always easy to get around. The entryways to the wings can get busy with wheelchairs, rolling stretchers and residents using walkers.
But he takes the delays with patience and always remains vigilant. The different nursing stations often page him if medical records need to move throughout the buildings quickly, and he'll stop whatever he's doing to do that.
Trust is an important part of the job.
Residents and staff members would pluck newspapers off a pile addressed to subscribers when he started the job six years ago. So he started meeting The Daily Journal's carrier personally each morning. He's also entrusted to deliver paychecks and medical records between nursing stations and other offices.
"He's an honest man and very reliable," said Sharon Beegle, a social worker. "He runs a lot of errands for me, and if I don't have any mail he still stops by and tells me."
The route also is a personal challenge.
Thiele struggles with his memory, but when he first started doing it as an assistant to a resident who has since passed away, the route became the cure.
"The more I was helping him, the more it helped my memory," Thiele said.
Today, it doesn't take a second thought to remember where he's going. And as he makes his daily rounds past the faces of the service members lining the hallways between residential units, he revisits the pride of being needed and respected.
"It's good therapy," Thiele said. "And I feel pretty good about it."