by Dennis Dalman
Now that he’s lost both of his legs, Tim Held of Sartell guffawed with a deadpan chuckle after he said, “Well, I won’t be running any more marathons.”
Tragedy has crept into Held’s life all too often in the last half decade, but he plows right ahead because he has no time for moping or self-pity. Many people know Held and his son, Tom, as members of “Plowing Vets.” It is an organization, based in St. Augusta, with about 10 members who volunteer to shovel and snow-blow driveways and sidewalks, free, for area military veterans. Held and his son love to do that work.
Four years ago, due to a nasty, persistent infection, Held’s right leg below the knee had to be amputated. Before the amputation, he endured 21 surgeries – efforts to nip the stubborn infection. The amputation didn’t stop him. He and son Tom, who was only 9 years old then, kept right on shoveling for veterans.
Then slightly more than a year ago, the same kind of bone-eating infection caused him to lose his left leg, from the knee down. For some reason, the nerve block he was given for the surgery did not work and later Held woke up and began to scream from unbearable pain.
“Oh yeah, it was about three hours of screaming,” he recalled. “I still have nightmares about it.”
As he recovered, Held was certain he would have to give up his snow-plowing/shoveling, which was a major disappointment to his son, now 13. Although Held is fitted with prostheses for both legs, the rig he used to transport his snow-blower was just too far off the ground to handle safely without him falling and injuring himself.
Then Held’s good neighbor, Steve Kavanagh, came to the rescue. He owned a low-to-the-ground hauling rig with a gently sloped long ramp on it. Kavanagh suggested Held should give it a try, to see if it would work so he could continue with plowing for veterans. That was during the second week in November when Held and his wife, Leah, were next door at the Kavanaghs’ house, helping them load up for their wintering trip to Arizona.
“Steve and his family lived next to us for about 20 years,” Held said. “A great guy! I always considered him a kind of father to me, and my kids think of him as a grandpa.”
A terrible tragedy struck on Nov. 23. That afternoon, Held answered the phone. The call was from some law-enforcement official in Arizona seeking next-of-kin of the Kavanaghs. Held turned pale and almost dropped the phone, and when he heard the horrible news he began to shake as an instant, utter devastation overwhelmed him.
Steve and Carolynn Kavanagh had been killed in their car near Winslow, Arizona, along with one of the three dogs they had with them, a dog named Angel.
It took Held and his family a long time to recover from the loss of their good neighbors, and that dreadful news still saddens them deeply, leaves them speechless.
“We kind of think Steve had a medical crisis while driving because the car veered into the center division and hit a brick retaining wall,” said Held, his voice trailing off. “It was so . . . so terrible.”
Held talked and empathized with Steve Held’s three grown sons. Carolynn was their stepmother. One of the sons, Adam, is a deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department in Alexandria. He told Held he was aware of how he was told he could use his father’s hauling rig. Then he told Held he wants him to own the trailer because, he Adam, heartily endorses Held’s efforts for veterans.
Steve, 71, was a retired engineer for the Minnesota Transportation Department and also a veteran who did a tour of duty in Vietnam. Carolynn, 69, was a semi-retired x-ray technician for the St. Cloud Hospital. She also was an expert trainer of therapy dogs.
Held used to work for the Sartell Public Works Department and was also at one time a Sartell Police Reserve volunteer. Leah is an emergency dispatcher for the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department.
They have three children – Tom, 13; Ryan, 11; and Sophie, 10. Ryan also helps now and then with snow-plowing.
Tom was thrilled to learn the Kavanaghs’ trailer would make it possible for his father to continue plowing for veterans.
“We’re just happy to have that trailer,” he told the Sartell Newsleader. “In fact, I’m looking at it through the window right now. It’s even got a ‘Plowing Vets’ sticker on it. We’re ready to go.”
Some people have asked Held how, with two legs gone, he can have such a good attitude. He always joshes back with these words: “Well, I see you have both of your legs. How come you have such a bad attitude?”