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A McDouble birthday surprise: Dickinson Fire Dept. fulfills one man's dream

Keith Kolling, a man with Down syndrome who lives in Dickinson, had a dream come true Friday night when firefighters picked him up and gave him a ride in their truck. One family member said it was the joy of a lifetime for the 60-year-old and that he'll be talking about it for years to come.

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Keith Kolling hugs Dickinson Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Schumacher after opening birthday gifts they brought for him. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)

Keith Kolling of Dickinson celebrated his 60th birthday Friday, Dec. 14. Kolling has Down’s syndrome, but according to family and friends nothing holds him back from spreading happiness to everyone he meets. To make his birthday a little extra special, his family threw a party for him at McDonald’s. His ride there was a dream come true, better than a limousine — Kolling got to ride in a fire truck.

First a three-man fire crew came to Kolling’s house so he could unwrap gifts they brought him: new fire department hats, shirts and suspenders.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Kolling said to the firefighters.

“I’m really happy,” he told them several times during the ride. Kolling's face lit up with excitement when they turned the sirens on.

Shawn Schumacher, assistant chief for the Dickinson Fire Department who rode in the truck, said it was a heartwarming experience to see Kolling ready for action in his firefighting gear.

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“The smile on his face was amazing. It was pretty priceless, all excited. He had his firefighter suspenders and shirt on,” Schumacher said. “It’s always been his dream to go for a ride… Anytime we can do something like this to make somebody’s day, we’ll definitely do it.”

Curtis Freeman, also an assistant chief, explained the ordeal didn’t really cost anything and took very little time out of their day. He said it was an important reminder that small acts of kindness can mean the world to the person receiving the end.

Kolling has a big, loving family with 16 siblings and many more nieces and nephews. He takes pride in being an uncle. Kolling has a brother and nephew who are both firefighters. His niece Anna Hatzenbuhler said they’ve always made him feel like one of the crew.

“I do want to thank the firemen for this. That was the biggest, biggest thing for him. I mean I don’t think they could’ve made him any happier. He’ll be talking about this for years,” Hatzenbuhler said. “His health isn’t all that great. We figured, you know, we don’t know how long we’ve got with him so we’ve got to do something that’s very special for him.”

She could tell he was overwhelmed with joy by his reaction when he got in the truck.

“When he rubs his hands together that means he’s happy, extremely happy” Hatzenbuhler said.

Rose Lenerville, who is Kolling’s great-niece and Hatzenbuhler’s daughter, came up with the idea for a fire truck ride when she found out about the birthday dinner planned at his favorite restaurant.

“His brother Lester, who is his guardian, said he was having a birthday party at McDonald’s. And I thought, what if the fire department could give him a ride to McDonald’s?” she said. “With everything going on in the world with COVID and all the negative things happening, I just wanted him to be free of worries about the outside world for one night.”

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Lenerville said she and her family feel blessed to have such a wonderful fire department in Dickinson.

“We just have such an amazing community and the family is extremely grateful for the fire department to take the time to make Uncle Keith’s birthday an even more special day for him,” she said.

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From left, Shawn Schumacher, Keith Kolling, Jared Hoerner and Curtis Freeman in front of a Dickinson fire truck at McDonalds. (Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press)

After the ride he was telling those around him that he “got his job back with the fire department,” and that he is once again an official fireman. Then he ordered his favorite meal, a fish sandwich.

Kolling is always smiling and has a special place in his heart for first responders, which he expresses by waving every time he spots police cars and fire trucks in traffic. He gives hugs to cashiers at the grocery store and makes friends everywhere he goes.

“He goes for car rides to McDonald’s twice a day and has to drive by the fire/police station (City of Dickinson Public Safety Center). Even if no one is outside he will wave as he goes by the building,” Lenerville said.

Kolling is an avid WWE Wrestling fan and tunes in every Monday night. He also enjoys music and watches the Lawrence Welk Show on Sundays. He feels a special connection to Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell, as they were born the same year. Before the coronavirus pandemic, he ate at Perkin’s with his family every Friday night and he knew the whole staff.

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“Each day is a special gift and you just never know when it will be your time to go. And I am so thankful he got to have the best birthday,” Lenerville said. “He is an amazing person all around.”

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