by Sarah Einselen
When Logansport volunteer Missy Iles walked into the downtown Mike Anderson car dealership Saturday, she thought she was simply picking up her old 1992 Dodge Grand Caravan after repair work.
She covered her eyes and started weeping when her pastor, the Rev. Clark Miller, explained that the dealership had instead decided to replace her van with a model nine years newer in gratitude for Iles’ volunteer work in the area.
Iles, who attends Trinity Episcopal Church in Logansport, was recognized by the Pharos-Tribune as one of Cass County’s Good Neighbors in 2011. She started the Backpack for Food program at Columbia Middle and Franklin Elementary schools and set up a Backpacks for School Supplies program through the church as well.
She’s also involved with rummage sales for underprivileged families and with regular Peanut Butter and Jam open mic fundraisers at the Neighborhood Tavern.
Iles’ van took her on numerous supply runs for the programs, including several trips to the Food Finders food bank in Lafayette, before breaking down last month.
“I can pack 49 banana boxes in that van,” Iles said proudly.
Her son dubbed the van “The Rosemobile” after making much use of it on hauling trips back and forth to Rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute.
Iles regularly drives as far as Indianapolis to buy supplies for the programs. On one such trip in November, she hit a deep pothole there while her van was loaded with several cases of writing paper for a school supply drive.
“I saw the car in front of me swerve but I didn’t see what was going on,” Iles remembered.
Hitting the pothole caused the load of paper to shift in the van and did serious damage to the van, which was then lopsided. Iles pulled over to rearrange the paper but drove the remaining 1 1/2 hours just praying the van would get her home.
“I knew I did something when I hit the pothole,” said Iles.
Her daughter, Beth Kite, brought the van to the dealership Nov. 27 to have it looked over. Mechanics determined that the van’s subframe had completely rusted in two, an irreparable problem.
Dealership owners Mike Anderson and Bill Thompson and general manager Terry Osborn decided to help Iles out after learning of the situation from Iles’ friend Melanie Kelley. Iles’ family and friends kept the secret until Saturday.
That’s when about 15 of them gathered to surprise her. Many praised her generosity and kindness.
Kite had told her mother only that repairs were being done for free, said Kelley.
“Her mom was a little upset because she didn’t feel like she was worthy,” Kelley recalled.
“That woman has never had one bit of good luck, ever,” she added. “And she’s never complained.”
The 1992 van had an estimated 270,000 miles on it, according to dealership staff. The exact mileage isn’t known because the odometer broke some time ago, said Iles.
The new van is a 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan with about 140,000 miles on it.
Iles expressed her gratitude to the dealership and her friends for the van.
“I can’t quit crying,” said Iles as dealership staff prepared to show her the van’s interior. “I’m just thrilled. I don’t have to be afraid anymore. I can go get whatever I need.”
Sarah Einselen is news editor for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-732-5151.