It’s Not the Destination, but the Friends You Meet Along the Way
We live in a world comprised almost entirely of transactions. We want a service, we hire someone, we pay them, it's over. We move on. Sometimes it feels like money exchanges hands more than conversation. In a fast-paced world filled with technology, convenience, and speed, we are accustomed to getting—or giving—what we want once a price has been agreed upon. In this kind of world, it’s easy to miss those who share their time and energy with little in return, and often disappear in the blink of an eye.
“There really isn't anyone that I've met like her.”
And then in Kalispell, Montana, a breath of fresh air arrives. You think maybe it's the fresh mountain air, a breeze across the valley, the sun glimmering across the surface of the ripple. But this fresh air greets you warmly, with no artifice, no ulterior motives. She's here for one thing, and one thing only: to help those who need her, and usually with her wheels.
Meet WCU member and 73-year-old dynamo Roberta Wilkinson. She’s just pulled up in her truck (financed through Whitefish Credit Union). Someone she knows needs to get somewhere, perhaps the library, perhaps a doctor's office, to pick up groceries, or maybe just meet someone for coffee. (Coffee is something Roberta knows well.) But wherever they’re going, she'll give them a ride.
“I'll be 74 this October, so one thing you gotta do, you can't just sit around. You gotta get out and move and meet people and stay active, and that's just what you do.”
“It's been nine years since I drove a taxi,” she says. Despite her white hair, she still has the vivacious energy of someone half her age. She's ready to pick up and go at a moment's notice, because there's always someone who needs a ride. “I'll be 74 this October, so one thing you gotta do, you can't just sit around. You gotta get out and move and meet people and stay active, and that's just what you do.”
And activity is something she's used to. Despite retiring years ago, Roberta is still committed to ensuring that her friends have a means to get around. She's given thousands of rides to people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. And when you talk to her, you get the sense that she remembers them all. Not just the person or the ride, but who they are and the conversations they've had.
Conversation, it seems, is about the only currency Roberta is interested in.
“You get to meet people,” she says. “People don't just get in and not say a word, and say, 'Drop me off,' you know. Strike up a conversation. That's how you get to know people.”
And every day she gets in her truck and drives someone somewhere, that's what she's doing. Getting to know people. By engaging each of them, she isn't just making sure they are at ease, but she's weaving them a place in the community.
“There's a giant web, a kind of a fabric of her life,” says one passenger, who's known Bobbie since she was a young Montanan of seventeen. “You start out meeting someone sort in passing and then you realize to the extent that they're not just supporting you with certain things that are going on in your life, but they've opened their heart to all of these different people that come passing through.”
“She's paying it forward, she's paying it backward, she's paying it sideways.”
And this is how it works in Montana. Roberta sees a need. Not only does she see it, but she asks herself if she's in a position to fill that need. And for this former cab driver, it seems an obvious and necessary choice to step up. Not for profit, but because she sees the hole in that fabric of the community. It's never about waiting for someone else to point it out. It's about taking the initiative and becoming the change... well, that Roberta wants to see in the world.
What initially started as a lay-off when the company she worked for went out of business quickly morphed into a ride service for people she cared about. “There was still a need for my friends, for the people that I met.
“The values I see of being in Montana—and being Montanan—is that we take care of our neighbors.”
And with every ride, she knits that fabric closer together, ensuring that no loose threads unravel or get lost and that no member of her community finds themselves stranded or without a means to get where they need to go. Through her truck and that indomitable spirit, Roberta Wilkinson weaves together the people with the community simply by following the streets and getting them from point A to point B.
“The values I see of being in Montana—and being Montanan—is that we take care of our neighbors,” she says.
For some people, the world is about money. Finding it, making it, keeping it. For others like Roberta, the world is about those connections. About a friendly word, a hassle-free drive. About stopping a conversation (or an interview) mid-way for the pure and simple reason that someone needs her. They're counting on her.
It's not about transactions, it's about people. And this is just the way it is in the Valley.
Doing the right thing because it's the right thing, and doing it with an open, easy heart and a genuine care for every soul who sits in her truck.
“The community sticks together and supports each other,” Roberta points out, “and it's very important.”
But what she doesn't note is that it's more than just sticking together. It's more than just support. It's about caring for your community... and ensuring a legacy that will last longer than the longest road, and leaving a lasting impression not only of her sense of local pride, but leading by example.
One ride at a time.
For Members Like You. Because What We Do Pays Dividends.