Meridian gives thanks for David Pritchard, the city’s amputee parks volunteer

Meridian volunteer Dave Pritchard

Dave Pritchard describes his rare condition and why he's thankful he "turned out as good as I did."
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Dave Pritchard describes his rare condition and why he's thankful he "turned out as good as I did."

You could call double-amputee Dave Pritchard the sheriff of Meridian’s Settlers Park. Others have called Pritchard, 72, the park grandfather, fairy godmother or garden gnome. Pritchard’s business card reads, “Scooter Boy.”

Pritchard wears a green hat and vest reading “Park Ambassador” as he makes afternoon rounds of the park on his black scooter. The Batmobile, as he calls it, allows Pritchard to traverse the park’s 57 acres, making sure the children are safe, passing out the occasional Band-Aid or reporting broken park equipment. He makes sure nobody smokes or runs their dogs off-leash.

He talks to everybody.

“I enjoy the kids. I enjoy the people,” Pritchard said. “They love that stupid scooter. I’ll have to have it bronzed somewhere in the park.”

Pritchard spends some of his time driving elderly acquaintances to errands and medical appointments. He volunteers an average of 85 hours per month, Meridian Volunteer Programs Coordinator Barbara Hatch said.

Pritchard was born with no hips, feet just below the knee and a right arm that ended in a nub just below the elbow. Surgeons amputated both feet, and though his right arm was born short, he considers himself a triple amputee.

He said he learned early that laughter helped pass time between surgeries and long hospital stays.

“I’m a sick puppy,” Pritchard said. “I don’t know how to do anything but smile.”

At home in the Sundance subdivision across Meridian Road from the park, Darlene Pritchard compared her husband of 49 years to one-winged poultry. “He’s my C-grade turkey,” she said.

Hatch said Pritchard’s insights helped the city improve access for park-goers with disabilities. Pritchard has become as much a fixture to regulars to the park at Meridian and Ustick roads as the playground and soccer fields, she said.

“He’s become a grandpa over there,” Hatch said. “He knows many of the kids by name.”

Pritchard spent much of his childhood in Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, Calif., a hospital for children with severe skeletal problems and other severe conditions. His feet were amputated as part of “eight or 10” surgeries over eight years. His parents made the long drive from the family’s Southern California home once a month to visit him. Because of fear of polio rampant at the time, Pritchard spoke to his parents through a glass barrier.

Pritchard has a rare condition whose name he does not remember. School classmates teased him, he said, but many were kind. He kept the scorebook when his classmates played sports. He made friends.

At Shriners he remembers becoming friends with another boy in his early teens, an Arkansas native named Leslie who had spina bifida, a spinal condition that limits movement.

At night, Pritchard said, he and Leslie would sneak past the nurses into the girls’ ward. Pritchard was in a full-body cast and could not sit fully upright, but he would turn the wheels on his mobile cot the same way he operates a wheelchair. Sometimes his good arm would get ahead of the short one and he would go in a circle. Pritchard would giggle with the girls about his covert operations, at least until the nurses busted him.

I don’t remember any of the girls’ names. Oh, wait. Karen. Karen Knight. I wonder what ever happened to her. She was kind of a cutie.

Meridian amputee and volunteer David Pritchard, remembering his days at Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, where he would sneak past nurses to the girls’ ward

Pritchard started playing “a totally different ballgame” after receiving his first prosthetic legs and crutches in 1957 at age 14. He had been shorter than 4 feet tall before getting his legs. Suddenly adults didn’t seem like giants. He worked with trainers to relearn how to get around. He spent months learning how to fall.

“And I’ve done a lot of that,” he said. “The flights are great. It’s just those landings that get me.”

After high school, Pritchard studied graphic design at Los Angeles Trade Technical College before taking a job creating technical illustrations of jet instruments at Lockheed Martin in Burbank, Calif.

There, he received rides to church from Darlene and her parents, who were family friends. The pair became closer friends when they served as informal counselors in a church college and career group for other young adults. They started dating.

Darlene spent most of her childhood in rural Japan, where her parents were Baptist missionaries. Pritchard made her laugh, she said, and she liked that he shared her faith.

“He wasn’t different from any other man, except for the handicap, and that was such a minor thing,” she said. “He had such a good spirit.”

In the years after World War II, most people living in rural Japan had never seen Americans with white skin or green eyes, Darlene Pritchard said. Japanese children lay on mats outside of Darlene’s home to look at her and her family.

This experience helped her relate to Pritchard when people stared at his short arm and prosthetics. “If I didn’t grow up that way, I think it would have been very difficult,” she said.

The pair dated for three months before getting engaged. Before the wedding, Pritchard took his fiancé to Shriners to meet the nurses he had grown close to and so she could ask doctors whether his condition was hereditary. They said it was not. The Pritchards soon married and had two sons with no disabilities.

In 1978, Pritchard took a job in Boise at Hewlett-Packard as a facilities project coordinator. Billie Bowles, the receptionist during part of Pritchard’s 24 years at HP, is now a fellow Meridian volunteer, staffing the information desk at city hall.

I come away from speaking with David feeling like I’ve been a better person. If he can do anything, I certainly should be able to do anything myself.

Barbara Hatch, Meridian volunteer programs coordinator

Pritchard was liked at HP for his jokes and pranks, Bowles said. When the city of Meridian named Pritchard its Senior of the Year as part of the city’s Meridian Stars awards, Bowles attended the ceremony.

“After all of the good things he’s done for people, I was so thankful somebody finally recognized it,” she said.