Top Gun Owner Ted Culbertson and other Top Gun employees prepared a fully accessible wheelchair van and picked three local veterans with special mobility needs, then asked the Helena community to vote for one to receive the van.
At the event, Daniel Koehl, known for his Veterans Coffee Drive program that collects donations of coffee and other items for patients at the VA, was announced as the first-prize winner. But, in a surprise, it was also announced that Stephen Keim, another local veteran, had donated a second accessible van, meaning second-place finisher John Cole won as well. Koehl said he currently has a truck, but it’s difficult for him to load his wheelchair without falling. “I’ll be able to do anything I need to do to get in now in the van without falling,” he said. “I can’t say how good it’s going to be. It’s just awesome. My heart is just so full.” Cole has a van but said the new one will be easier to get in and out of. “I just wanted to say thank you for the van,” he said. “This is the first time in my life I’ve ever won anything.” The third veteran, Royal Magnus, was not able to attend Saturday’s event, but he also received a $1,000 grocery card from Vans Thriftway. Top Gun Auto Body was honored to be able to help these deserving veterans. “It’s very important for me to give back, and one thing we can give back is cars,” Top Gun Auto Body owner Ted Culbertson said.
In addition to Top Gun Auto Body, a number of other businesses worked on the new van. Point S Tire donated the wheels and tires, Milledge Muffler and Brake provided the exhaust system, and Axalta Coatings did the van’s finish. Koehl said the Helena community has always been remarkably supportive of veterans. “This community takes so good care of us,” he said. The giveaway came during Top Gun Auto Body’s second annual classic car show. The event also featured a barbecue and an exhibition by freestyle motocross riders.
Meet the Heroes of Helena
John Cole’s service to America began when he was drafted and sent to Germany. From Germany, Cole requested he go to Vietnam.
Following his first tour in Vietnam, he returned home to Montana but couldn’t find a job and reenlisted with the U.S. Army for a second tour.
John met his wife Betty in Butte. The two formed a bond over the road as long-haul truckers. They worked as a team sharing many miles across the United States.
John and Betty embody the spirit of husband and wife. Their lives haven’t been untouched by difficulties. The lost many keepsakes and family photos in a house fire several years ago. John is mobility challenged. He relies on a wheelchair and has difficulty hearing. Betty is blind. However, they’ve stood behind each other for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.
Daniel Koehl entered the Army in 1967.
Following his service, he worked as truck driver, until he was injured by a falling stack of freight. The accident caused severe damage to the lower half of his body. Daniel regained the use of legs after surgery but still needs to use a wheelchair.
Daniel went on to work for Vocational Rehabilitation at the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis. There he helped other veterans work to overcome their injuries.
It is also where he met his wife Jane.
Today Daniel continues his work helping veterans. His Veteran Coffee Drive celebrated 10 years in 2017. He can often be seen around Helena filling his truck with donations of coffee, snacks and other items for VA patients.