Nebraska soldier refurbishes bicycles for ‘love of the kids’

When Don Coleman was growing up as one of 14 children in Greenfield he says there were five things he wanted to do: graduate from high school, become a minister, join the military, get married and have kids with a white house and a picket fence, and work with people to make their lives better.

By the early 1990s, the son of Charles and Susie Coleman had accomplished all those goals and more. But he still had more to give.

Don Coleman, a 1955 McClain High School graduate, gives a bike to one of the thousands of kids he has helped in Lincoln, Neb.

Don Coleman, a 1955 McClain High School graduate, gives a bike to one of the thousands of kids he has helped in Lincoln, Neb.

 

So in 1992 he started the Lincoln, Neb. chapter of MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder), a program that took on gangs that were moving east from the west coast, and that has since provided refurbished bicycles to thousands of less fortunate children.

“We took on the gangs, but didn’t do it in their face,” the 1955 graduate of McClain High School said. “Twice a year we went out with lots of other people and painted over their graffiti.”

For 10 years, Coleman said, the group walked the streets of Lincoln from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., looking for kids that for one reason or another had been put out of their homes. A lot of times, he said, they’d find the kids at restaurants where they could order a sandwich and big soft drink, and, because they had nowhere else to go, could stay as long as they nursed their drink. The group tried to comfort the kids and find them a place to go.

Coleman was also a police and fire department chaplain during that time, hosted a gospel radio show, and ministered. But about 1998 he decided he wanted to do more for kids. So, he opened a recreation center where kids could come all week after school and on Saturdays.

“We were looking for ways to keep kids healthy, so we said, ‘OK, let’s do bicycles,’” Coleman said. “We feel that every kid needs to have a bike.”

The bikes go to kids whose families otherwise can’t afford them. The groups works with 21 schools, the disabled and anyone else who has a need. There are Coleman and three regular volunteers who receive help from people completing community service requirements, other volunteers, and various fraternities and sororities in the area. They take donated bikes and parts of bikes and completely refurbish them. Coleman said that last year the shop foreman and other two volunteers put in 3,300 hours.

Coleman estimates that since the program started, it has given away more than 9,000 bicycles.

“Every bike is tore completely down and we start all over again,” Coleman said. “When a bike goes out, it’s just like brand new.”

If anyone has a problem with a bike, they can bring it back in and get it fixed for free.

Many of the bikes are given away as part of a Christmas program, and each kid gets 10 minutes to pick out a bike.

“I tell you, you have never seen such smiles on kids faces. It’s just wonderful,” Coleman said.

Coleman was born in Greenfield on Oct. 25, 1937. At age 10, he was baptized in Paint Creek, then went on to play football, basketball and track at McClain. He says he was the only black male in his class and suffered some hardship because of it. For instance, when his teammates went to Penny’s, a local teen hangout, after games, he wasn’t allowed to go. He also said some teachers made him sit in the back of the room and never called on him for anything.

But his father had prepared him for those kinds of problems.

“Daddy said, ‘You’re going to run into situations because of your color regardless of how much education you have. So square your shoulders, look up and walk like a man. If you ever have to bow your head, make sure you’re on your knees,’” Coleman told Military magazine last year. “He also told us, ‘If you hold onto negative things, they’ll eat you alive. So when trouble comes, give it 60 seconds and then let it go. That gives you 23 hours and 59 minutes to have a good day.’”

Coleman enlisted in the U.S. Army just after graduation, played some semi-pro baseball during that time, volunteered for service in Vietnam, and re-entered the military 10 years after he originally retired. He was an award-winning radio broadcaster, decorated veteran, and moved to Lincoln in 1983 when he assumed an active duty position as the state TV/radio coordinator for the Nebraska Army National Guard. He retired from the Army in 1991.

He has been a member of the Lincoln Boy Scout board and with his pastor wife, Ann, ministers at The Christian Life Church in Lincoln. He also has five children, 17 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

In 1999, Don and his wife were selected as Nebraska Parents of the Year and in 2000 they were named U.S. Parents of the Year. His list of other awards is too numerous to mention, but in 2011 he was selected as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian of the Year for Nebraska.

At a time when many his age are slowing down, Don Coleman seems to just keep on rolling.

“It’s just for the love of the kids,” he said.

Jeff Gilliland may be reached at 937-393-3456 ext. 209 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.

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