It was 14 degrees on Friday morning when Keith Callison rolled up outside the Bicycle Pedaler shop on North Rock Road.
He’d ridden a bicycle there from the Union Rescue Mission, a shelter for homeless men.
He felt reluctant to come. When the Mission director, Denny Bender, had offered to replace Callison’s bicycle a few months ago, Callison said no. When other people offered to give him coats, or rides to stay out of the Kansas cold, he said no.
But the Pedaler co-owner, Ruth Holliday, was a fellow bicycle person. She’d once bicycled, with her husband, Bob, to California and back, and she’d been intrigued with Callison’s story about biking here from Escondido to find a job.
And Callison’s story was one of those rare ones that comes along once in a while that, no matter how improbable it might sound, it inspires people.
Holliday wanted to upgrade his bike. Ted Mason, a Wichita dentist, and his wife, Lori, contacted him about giving him free dental care. Sheree Utash, president of Wichita Area Technical College, has cheered him as he scored straight-A grades in aircraft composites classes.
So Callison rode the six miles from the Mission to the Pedaler, wearing a coat and gloves. “The cold didn’t bother me,” he said. “After two miles, I don’t even need the coat.”
My horse needs some new shoes.
Keith Callison, homeless student
“This is my horse,” he told Holliday, when he rolled in his bike. “I’m not used to this (getting help), but my horse needs some new shoes.”
Callison has intrigued a few people since September, when he rolled into town to say that he’d bicycled from California looking for work.
The story that got to them, in the Jan. 2 Wichita Eagle, was about how Callison, 53, told people in town not only that he’d ridden 1,600 miles here, but that he’d done so shortly after the Lord told him to quit smoking weed and methamphetamine in Escondido, and go learn how to build airplanes.
What drew us to his story is his determination to get a job.
Ruth Holliday, owner of the Bicycle Pedaler
His story, “and the way he seemed so determined to do things on his own,” captivated Holliday and her husband, she said. They were nurses who took that California bike ride in 1981, when she was 25 and Bob was 30; they opened the Bike Pedaler that same year.
“What drew us to his story is his determination to get a job,” Holliday said, while her service manager, Aaron North, worked to upgrade Callison’s bike. “That determination makes it worth the effort.”
Callison now has a perfect 4.0 grade point average after taking four classes on aircraft composites at Wichita Area Technical College.
Utash has said that if Callison keeps working at the same quality of study he’s showed so far, he will complete a certification in aircraft composites by March and be able to apply for jobs in the aircraft industry.
“He’ll start school again on Monday,” Utash said. “He messaged me last week that he’d already read all of his textbooks because he wants to ace everything.”
Holliday had North replace parts on Callison’s bike on Friday, and scheduled Callison to come back for more work next week. All told, she said, the work might total $300. “That’ll be our donation,” she said.
“I’m happy to be here,” Callison said, as he watched North work twist wrenches on his bike. “There are a lot of good Christian folks in this town.”