Building Bridges: An ALS Story
Jim and Joan Fulkroad have devoted their lives to building bridges. Along with his brother Gerald, Jim and the 125 people employed by their company, Jay Fulkroad & Sons, Inc. have constructed bridges in communities throughout Pennsylvania and especially the Mifflintown area. These structures help towns of all sizes grow and prosper.
In addition to a physical structure, a bridge is also a bond, a connector that is felt, rather than seen. Those are the bridges that that Fulkroads have also built that truly define their lives. These bridges lift up others in profound ways. They are the bridges between caring hearts and caring actions.
Jim and Joan have been married for 58 years and together for over 60 years. It has been a lifetime of love and happiness for the couple, made all the better with three children, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Family has always been the cornerstone of their lives. On Sunday evenings the entire family gathers at the Fulkroad home for Joan’s special grilled cheese and tomato soup, a family favorite.
Five years ago, the Fulkroads’ lives changed dramatically when Joan was diagnosed with ALS. Even in the best of times, caring for someone with ALS takes a lot of work. But work is no stranger to Jim and Joan. When they started dating, Jim and his father were running a lime business that involved burning lime in Mifflintown, PA. Jim would haul three loads of coal into his truck every week. He would do this every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Friday was Joan and Jim’s date night and she would ride along with the coal he was transporting.
Over the past 60 years, Jim and Joan have built their lives through hard work. That work includes helping others. Joan has long been very active in their church, participating in many activities, and one of her favorite interests is volunteering with Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers meals and visits senior citizens in need. For years, Joan was a very dedicated volunteer, an act of love that filled her soul.
After the symptoms of ALS started to impact her ability to deliver these meals, Joan didn’t let it stop her. Instead of giving up, she and Jim found new ways to build bridges with others. Joan still cooks for Meals on Wheels and her lovingly prepared food is delivered multiple times each week to seniors who are isolated and hungry. Just recently, she helped make tubs of ice cream to sell at their church’s Sunday School Festival, which helps to raise money for local agencies. They sold out quickly. This year’s proceeds went to the local food pantry.
ALS took away Joan’s ability to swallow and consequently she and Jim miss connecting with friends at restaurants, which was a favorite activity. The friendships the Fulkroads have built for decades remain strong and friends often still visit Jim and Joan.
Living with ALS has enabled Jim and Joan to build a bridge that they never expected. They have developed a strong rapport with Dr. Simmons and the team at The ALS Association Certified Treatment Center of Excellence at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. During their visits, the Fulkroads have built friendships with many specialists who help guide them through this challenging disease. In fact, Chapter Nurse Annette Miller was delighted when the couple showed up at her house on their motorcycle. You see, for many years, the Fulkroads have enjoyed Sunday motorcycle rides traveling up to 60 miles. Joan and Jim do not let ALS stop them from continuing to enjoy many activities — they just alter them. They used to ride a regular motorcycle, but now they ride a trike that gives them more stability.
Bridges create connections in the world that would otherwise be impossible. They allow people to move across dangerous waters and obstacles. For the Fulkroads, ALS is an obstacle that they could never have planned for, but their lifetime of building bridges and connections to others helps them to remain happy, motivated, and at peace. When this challenge was thrown in their direction, Jim and Joan still found ways to reconnect with others and give back to those with greater needs than their own.
Now more than ever, people need inspiration in their lives. Despite the difficulties that have become a hallmark of 2020, Jim and Joan Fulkroad are inspiring others with their compassion and love.
Learn more about ALS and about how you can support our mission at www.alsphiladelphia.org