Lester Wilker stands next to the helicopter memorial at the Veterans Park Bridge in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. Wilker is a recipient of the Jefferson Award for over seven years of service as a driver for Disabled American Veterans. Wilker said that if he had the opportunity, he would continue driving the veterans. While he never became close with any of the veterans he helped, he said that they were all great people who never gave him any trouble.Photo by Jenna Walker /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
As a volunteer driver for the Disabled American Veterans, Lester Wilker was dedicated to his passengers.
If he drove a veteran to a one-day surgery, "he would stay there from sun-up to sun-down," said Virginia Bennett, Wilker's private-care nurse.
For about seven years in the 1990s and 2000s -- first in Rhea County, then in Hamilton County -- Wilker drove a van carrying six to eight veterans at a time, sometimes to places as far as Nashville, Murfreesboro and Atlanta. He logged about 200,000 miles and "did not put one scratch on a vehicle," Bennett said.
Wilker, 82, of Soddy-Daisy, is a local recipient of the monthly Jefferson Award. Bennett nominated him for the prize because he devoted his time to helping veterans.
"I love Americans, I love our disabled vets, I love people that love America," she said. "He has definitely blessed America."
Wilker said he is honored to be recognized as a Jefferson Award recipient. He said he enjoyed his volunteer work for DAV.
"I'm proud of it. For doing something for nothing," he said.
The driving gave him something to do when he retired, he added.
Wilker is now retired from driving for DAV, but he continues to help those who can't get to medical appointments. About two months ago, he drove a woman to Erlanger hospital for free, he said.
"He is a jewel. He's one of the finest humans I have ever met," Bennett said.