Shriner driver logs 2,900 hours to connect kids to health care

Winford 'Wink' Dillard also helps build wheelchairs for children in need

Friday, November 2, 2018
Wink working on a wheelchair

Nineteen years ago, Winford “Wink” H. Dillard became a member of Sudan Shrine Temple in New Bern, North Carolina. Over the years, he has helped Shriners Hospitals for Children fulfill its mission, to care for children with orthopaedic conditions regardless of their families’ ability to pay.

Wink credits his son-in-law, Patrick, with inspiring him to become a Shriner. Patrick was a Shriner and loved telling others about the health care system's mission. Patrick often took part in parades to raise awareness. During one such parade, Patrick planned to drive a miniature prowler, a small sports car. However, Patrick had no way to transport the parade vehicle. Throughout that day, Patrick had been telling Wink about the high-quality care patients received at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Greenville. So Dillard offered the use of his car trailer to haul the 24-foot vehicle. After Dillard helped transport vehicles for three more parades, several Shriners invited him to become part of the organization. Shortly after, Dillard began taking the steps to become a Shriner.

When asked what attracted him to join the fraternity, Dillard mentions a shared sense of commitment to philanthropy.

“We have similar viewpoints on life, all of us are committed to helping others,” he said. "The Shriners are a great group of guys.” When he later moved to Florida, Dillard continued to help Shriners Hospitals for Children at the Tampa Shriners Hospital.

In 2004, Dillard became an associate member of the Egypt Shriners in Tampa, Florida. In 2008, Dillard started volunteering as a driver at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Tampa. Today, he has logged an impressive 2,900 hours and 50,000 miles as a volunteer. That’s a little more than two trips around the equator. Year after year, Dillard drives patients and their families from their homes to the Tampa Shriners Hospital and back again, ensuring that children have access to the highest quality of care.

“Polk County has lots of migrants and poor people who have special needs children. They do not have a way to get to [the hospital] and receive care without us,” Dillard said. Thanks to Dillard’s dedication, patients experience less discomfort and achieve improved mobility. This allows the kids to become more independent and participate more fully in school, church and family activities. Today, Dillard coordinates all Shriners transportation for Polk County patients.

In 2013, Dillard was recognized as the hospital’s Male Volunteer of the Year. Routinely going the extra mile to support the Tampa Shriners Hospital, Dillard exemplifies what it means to be a great Shriner. After transporting patients, Dillard must wait for them to receive care before he can drive the children and families home. A retired mechanical engineer with a degree from Virginia Tech, Dillard uses the down time to assist the hospital’s seating department, where staff members create customized wheelchairs for needy children.

“Kids have different body shapes, so that traditional wheelchairs will not work for them,” said Dillard, who spent his career designing airplanes, airplane engines and mining equipment. “It is very rewarding to see the smiles on the kids' faces when they get their new wheelchair.”

Dillard treasures his memories of interacting with patients during the drives to and from the hospital. He also enjoys seeing their progress through rehabilitation and recovery. For example, a young boy named Angel was missing both legs and one arm. When the 2-year-old arrived, his mother carried him everywhere. “One of the biggest thrills I have had was meeting up with Angel after he was fitted with prosthetics and was learning to walk down the halls of our hospital,” Dillard recalled.

Dillard’s daughter, Wanda McKirahan, shares her father’s and late husband’s desire to help Shriners kids. She began volunteering at the Tampa Shriners Hospital earlier this year in the seating, and marketing and communications departments.

“My dad loves the kids," she said. "He goes above and beyond to ensure that they are taken care of.”