When last Thursday’s storm knocked out the power at Mills Park Tower in Oak Park, senior resident Bob Gunder panicked.
He lives on the 18th floor at the high-rise community for seniors and the disabled, and he has breathing problems. An electric-powered converter creates air for his lungs, and he worried what might happen without power to run the device.
So he started making phone calls-to Oak Park Township, Oak Park Village Hall, State Senator Don Harmon, Commonwealth Edison-anyone who could provide answers.
When those attempts failed, Gunder, 68, turned to a radio call-in show. It was there he found his hero.
Gunder called the Steve and Johnnie Show, which runs from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. on WGN-AM radio, to vent his frustrations about the storm and to share his dilemma. The show invites callers to share their problems.
Meanwhile, Riverside resident Jeff Volmut, 49, was waiting on hold for the same radio show. The storm knocked power out at Volmut’s house, too, and he wanted to know how long food would last in his fridge before spoiling.
After waiting half an hour, he was just about ready to hang up when he heard Gunder on the radio.
Gunder, who lives on a fixed income, said he couldn’t afford to make a trip to an emergency room, and paramedics reportedly told him they didn’t have an air tank in their ambulance to bring up to his 18th floor apartment.
Volmut, as it happens, suffers from “cluster headaches,” which he treats with oxygen, and he happened to have a few extra tanks at his home. He told someone at the radio show to call him if he could help, and sure enough, Volmut received a call asking for his assistance.
Just after 2 a.m., Volmut drove through pouring rain 15 minutes to Mills Park, 1025 Pleasant Pl. He managed to finagle his way into the building, with the buzzer system down, and trudged up 18 flights of stairs carrying the two small tanks, enough to last to the morning.
“He was kind of tearful when I got to the 18th floor, and I was out of breath,” Volmut said. “It was just one of those random acts of kindness I felt I could help with.”
In Gunder’s dark apartment, with the rain beating outside, the two men talked for an hour about life, faith and family, forging a quick friendship. Gunder plans to take Volmut out to one of his favorite restaurants as a token of appreciation later this week.
“To me, he was really a hero,” said Gunder, emotions rising in his voice. “To care for a total stranger in a very important time of need, that’s something nobody has ever done for me, and it’s sad that more people don’t care about others.”
“His random act of kindness, I’ll never forget,” he said later. “If there’s some way in the future that I could ever help anybody, I would.”
Walking out that rainy night, Volmut ran into another elderly man at the 5th floor walking up the stairs to the 13th floor.
“I couldn’t walk by him, so I helped him up to his apartment,” Volmut said.
“I would do it again for somebody,” he said of the whole experience. “I believe in karma, and if you put out good, you get the good back sometimes.”