Kristin Fowles was driving to lunch in Salem on a chilly Wednesday afternoon when a man walked into the road and flagged her down.
He waved his cane in the air and yelled for her to stop, so she pulled over beside him.
“He’s like, ‘Can you please give me a ride to the Salem pharmacy? I need to pick up some hearing aid batteries,’” Fowles recalled on Saturday. “I don’t typically pick up strangers, so I was a little leery — so I started recording, just to make sure.”
On the way to the pharmacy, Fowles learned the man was very hard of hearing, and she had to yell in order to talk with him. She also learned the man — 88-year-old war veteran Keith Bench — had recently had a stroke, so his driver license was revoked. And his wife, who has macular degeneration, is also unable to drive.
“So he kind of just tries to get around asking people for help,” Fowles said.
When they got to the pharmacy, he bought new batteries — but they turned out to be the wrong size for his hearing aids. So Fowles took Bench home to his wife to figure out their next move.
“When we walked in, she’s like, ‘Where’d you pick him up? Where did you find this guy?’” Fowles said. “I was like, ‘Well, he kind of found me.’ And they’re just a funny couple really, really cute.”
Bench’s wife explained that his original pair of hearing aids was supplied by Veterans Affairs, but one broke quickly after he got them. The couple mailed in his broken hearing aid to the VA clinic in Orem a few weeks ago but hadn’t heard anything yet on when they would be replaced.
In the meantime, Bench’s wife had found an old pair of hearing aids in a drawer in their home, which she told Fowles were from 1954.
“Those were the ones he was trying to get working,” Fowles said. “So we put the battery in from the one hearing aid that he had from the VA, and it kind of worked. And so then he could kind of hear me a little better, and then he took me out and showed me his shop.”
Bench makes woodworking projects, like wooden water wells and other knickknacks. He thanked Fowles profusely for helping him out, and gifted her a picture of Santa for her troubles. But Fowles decided to go a step further, and get Bench’s story online.
“I have an Instagram for my son who has battled cancer, and so I just got on that platform and just said, ‘Hey, let’s get Keith some hearing aids,’ and it just blew up,” Fowles said.
As of 4:30 p.m. Saturday, a GoFundMe Fowles set up for Bench had raised $13,700 of its original $3,000 goal.
“I’m just absolutely overwhelmed at the amount of people that have reached out,” Fowles said. “Just people giving a little bit here and there, and people reaching out saying, ‘Can I get him a new coat? Can I fill his pantry? Does he need new shoes? What other needs to this family have?’ So he just has touched the hearts of so many people in such a short time.”
Fowles visited with Bench and his wife on Saturday to update them on the fundraising, and let them know a hearing aid company has reached out to offer Bench free hearing aids.
“I want to really thank you from my heart, and the people that’s helped you,” Bench said in a video posted to Fowles’ Instagram page. “You don’t know how much I appreciate it.”