After five years of being packed away, Dick Zehr’s Ham radio has made its way back to him at Good Samaritan Home, Flanagan.
Zehr, who will be 91 April 28, and his wife, Lois, are both residents at Good Sam and have been licensed to use the radio since 1953.
“We had to pass a Morse code test of 13 words per minute and a written test to get our license. The license is renewable and the license we have today expires in 2017, so we have a little time to go,” Zehr said. He said his wife, who is 87, can’t speak anymore due to an illness, but she still keeps her license current.
Using the Ham radio has been a hobby the couple has enjoyed for numerous years, speaking to people in more than 250 countries, including keeping up with missionaries in South America and Africa, captains on airplanes and ships out at sea and an encounter with the King of Jordan in 1972.
“I have it all written down in my log book. I heard him on there quite often,” Zehr said of King Hussein.
The amateur radio enthusiast said that the available bands, or frequencies, aren’t what they used to be and that he only has a reach of about 50 square miles today.
“I used to be able to get on the air in the morning and talk to people in Australia. They were just getting ready to go to bed when we got up,” he said.
Zehr said that there was a time when a woman from South America put a call out on the radio, asking for someone from Illinois to answer. When Zehr picked up, she asked if he could make a phone call to Rockford, which he did, “patching” the phone to the radio, so the woman could have a conversation with the person in Rockford. He said that in those times, that was a less expensive way to make a call to a person that far away, as the use of a Ham radio is free.
He said the advent of cellular phones and Internet in the past couple of decades was probably what made the popularity of the Ham radio decline, as widespread use began around the time of the end of World War I and saw its peak between the late 1950s and mid 1970s.
“Technology today is amazing,” he said. “I feel like, when it comes to technology, I was born 50 years too soon.”
Throughout their time as licensed Ham radio users, they taught Morse code and showed people how to use their radio, including students and Scout members. They also took plenty of trips with the Ham radio. Zehr said that he and his wife had to have their Ham license with them at all times when they traveled with it.
“It was nice that Good Samaritan Home so graciously let me set the radio up in our room. I don’t think there are many Ham radio operators in nursing homes,” Zehr said.
The couple has been a part of the Flanagan community for a number of years. Both of them worked at Flanagan schools for a period of time. Dick Zehr also worked at Yordy’s Hardware, Flanagan Implement and Roeschley’s Hybrids. Before the couple married, Zehr was a smoke jumper for the National Forest Service in Missoula, Mont., taking part in 26 parachute jumps to help put out or contain fires before they became too large.
Zehr said that other hobbies he enjoys, besides using his radio, are listening to religious music, especially the Statler Brothers and bowling on the Nintendo Wii.
The couple has had the same call numbers for the Ham radio since they got their licenses in 1953.
“I go by Dick, because it’s shorter than Richard, but when I talk to people in Spanish-speaking countries, they call me ‘Ricardo,’” he laughed.
The couple will be celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary June 22.
“My wife and I work well together,” he said, smiling at her.
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