FARGO — In the last few years, John Cunningham has become part of the neighborhood.

Sitting in his wheelchair on the side of the road every day, he waves at everyone who drives by Pioneer House Assisted Living in south Fargo. Whether in snowstorms or sticky, sultry weather, he waves to thousands of people a day.

Cunningham has never met most of the strangers he waves and welcomes, but now they seem like family. Passersby wave back and some honk their horn.

"It is literally a day brightener 24 hours a day," he said.

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Life hasn't been easy for Cunningham. He's been at Elim Rehab and Care Center for the last 12 years, recovering from a stroke that left him paralyzed. With rehab, he saw improvements, and he started coming outside to wave every day. Some of his favorites are city of Fargo workers like Lance Volk.

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Volk, who had never met Cunningham before, decided to do something special for him. Working with the medical device charity HERO, he went and bought Cunningham a motorized wheelchair. On Thursday, July 18, Lance surprised him with it at Elim.

John Cunningham waves to a passing garbage truck driven by city worker Lance Volk outside Pioneer House Assisted Living in south Fargo.  Moments later, Volk would surprise Cunningham with a new electric wheelchair.  Andrew Nelson / WDAY
John Cunningham waves to a passing garbage truck driven by city worker Lance Volk outside Pioneer House Assisted Living in south Fargo. Moments later, Volk would surprise Cunningham with a new electric wheelchair. Andrew Nelson / WDAY

"You make my day seeing you every day, so you are now the proud owner of this new electric scooter," Volk told Cunningham.

"You are kidding me," Cunningham responded. "This is a blessing."

There were tears and gratitude all around. Two men — both fathers and grandfathers — who have waved at each other every day for months without knowing each other are now putting life into perspective for so many.

"I see him Monday through Friday at about the same time. He brightens my day so I was able to brighten his today," Volk said.

Now that Volk and Cunningham have finally met, Volk said he will make a point of not just honking when he goes by in the garbage truck. He plans on stopping to have coffee with Cunningham when he can.