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Robert "Dutch" Van Vranken is riding his electric wheelchair from the Headwaters of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)
Robert "Dutch" Van Vranken is riding his electric wheelchair from the Headwaters of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Man on trek across country to raise money for disabled veterans

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Robert "Dutch" Van Vranken has just started a journey to the Gulf of Mexico with a mission to honor veterans.

Van Vranken headed out Tuesday from the Headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park. He will be riding an electric wheelchair on roads following the Mississippi River to the Gulf.

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Although he is not a veteran, he has a lot of respect for them and wants to raise funds for veterans with disabilities.

Van Vranken, 52, lives in St. Louis Park but has ties to the area. His parents live in Bemidji. He is a retired airline ground service crew chief. He lost his left leg in an automobile accident in 2006.

Starting his journey this week was significant because of Memorial Day, he said.

"I hope to see a lot of veterans along the way," Van Vranken said. "It's just a neat way to see America."

He plans to make stops along the way at veterans' memorials and will stay at campgrounds along the way. He also welcomes host families or organizations that might provide him a place to set up a tent and access electricity to charge his wheelchair and phone.

Tuesday afternoon Van Vranken stopped in Park Rapids at the veterans' memorial park. He was welcomed with a gift: free electricity to charge up the wheelchair batteries.

The chair is powered by 12-volt batteries and he thinks that will last about 9 hours a day. He will recharge each night. The trip will take about six months, Van Vranken estimates, but he's not in a hurry.

He made a similar trip in 2007 when he traveled from Minneapolis to Washington, D.C.

Van Vranken maintains a positive attitude despite missing a leg.

"My main concern is lions and tigers and bears," he joked about his trip. "I get to see America at 9 miles per hour."

It's also a spiritual journey for Van Vranken.

"My faith is strong and I'll carry that with me along the way," he said.

His friend Vicki Vail will update his website journal along the way. His website is www.thankthevets.com.

The website also has a link to the Disabled American Veteran's website where people can make donations.

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Park Rapids Enterprise (218) 732-8757 customer support
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561
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